Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
By MIKE VORKUNOVPISCATAWAY, N.J. — Austin Freeman has had a rough go of it in the Big East.
Just like his team, he has struggled.
Georgetown lost three straight and floundered under the burden of being a top-10 team with their annual January swoon.
Freeman hadn’t played up to the expectations of a pre-season Big East Player of the Year.
But Saturday at the RAC, both parties woke up from their winter hibernation.
Freeman scored 18 second-half points on his way to a game high 25 points as the No. 22 Hoyas beat Rutgers, 74-65, at the RAC. He had averaged just 9.6 points during the three-game losing skid.
Georgetown improved to 13-5, 2-4 in the Big East, while Rutgers dropped to 10-7, 1-4.
Chris Wright added 15 points and Jason Clark had 13 points as all three members of the Georgetown troika snapped out of their funk.
“It is related,” said Hoyas coach John Thompson III, whose team visits Seton Hall Tuesday night. “It is really good to have these two guys [Freeman and Wright] back.
“If we could have won and they were in a shooting slump, I would take that, but it is related. We need these guys. The way this team is put together, Chris, Austin and Jason are going to have to play well for us. That’s not to say we don’t have other options in the locker room, but we can’t go through a stretch where all of them are slightly out of sync.”
Rutgers withstood an 8-0 Georgetown run to start the second half that stretched a 31-25 halfime lead. A James Beatty 3-pointer cut the lead to 47-43 midway through the second half.
But Freeman curbed the comeback. He promptly hit a three of his own to quell the tide. The Hoyas lead would hit double-digits again before the Scarlet Knights would tighten up the final line in garbage time.
“We know that is life in the Big East,” Thompson said of when the lead was cut to four points. “Teams are going to make runs on their home court. The RAC is a difficult place to play. They [Rutgers] have great fans and it gets loud in there. They have good players and teams are going to make runs. It was a question of us, at that point, focusing on execution, making the extra pass, getting an open shot.”
Rutgers coach Mike Rice criticized his team for not responding in their last game when another top-tier Big East team, Connecticut, started the second half with a big run. This time the Knights responded and although they made a comeback, it was another indication of how far they have to go.
“We have to learn you can’t give away possessions,” said Rice. “Whether it’s missed assignments or second-chance opportunities. This team, maybe, is not talented enough to do that. They had fight, they had an awareness of each other. Playing for one another. It just wasn’t good enough.”
Rice took center Gilvydas Biruta out of the starting lineup as a motivation ploy and it worked. The freshman responded with a team-high 14 points and of his six rebounds, five were offensive.
Biruta was not surprised by the change and thought he deserved it after his play against the Huskies.
“He felt sorry for himself after the UConn game a little bit,” said Rice. “I just wanted to wake him up by not starting him. I thought he responded very well.”
Follow Mike Vorkunov on Twitter: @Mike_Vorkunov
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.