WASHINGTON (AP)—Georgetown allowed Aaron Gray to look like the next coming of Patrick Ewing in the first half. In the second half, Pittsburgh’s 7-foot center didn’t even score.
Hoyas coach John Thompson III went to a matchup zone to stop him on end, and he pulled Gray away from the basket on defense by using Jeff Green as a point forward. Those moves allowed the 17th-ranked Hoyas to overcome a 15-point first-half deficit and survive a late rally for a 61-58 victory over No. 9 Pittsburgh on Sunday.
“I think we did show a lot of poise, particularly in the last part of the first half,” Thompson said. “We could have became a little frazzled.”
Green matched his career high with 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting, and Brandon Bowman scored 10 of his 15 points in the second half for the Hoyas (16-4, 7-2 Big East), who have two victories over Top Ten teams during their six-game winning streak. The other came on Jan. 21 over then-No. 1 Duke.
The victory also moved Georgetown into sole possession of fourth place in the Big East and ended a four-game home losing streak to the Panthers.
The Hoyas won despite getting outrebounded 35-23 and with only two points from their bench—Darrel Owens’ two free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining. Georgetown nearly blew a 10-point lead in the final 39 seconds, and Pittsburgh’s Ronald Ramon missed a long but wide open 3-pointer at the buzzer that could have sent the game to overtime.
“I told the players it’s hard for me to get excited about that victory,” Thompson said, “thinking about those last couple of minutes.”
Gray scored all of his 15 points in the first half and went 0-for-4 with three turnovers against the matchup zone in the second. He also finished with 11 rebounds. Carl Krauser and Ramon each added 11 points for the Panthers (17-3, 6-3), who led 33-18 in the first half and 35-28 at halftime.
“It’s been a strength of ours, executing against the zone,” Panthers coach Jamie Dixon said. “We didn’t do as good a job today. … The key was that we didn’t finish off the first half. We should have been up by more.”
Pittsburgh lost at No. 1 Connecticut last week and has dropped three of five — all on the road—after a 15-0 start. No. 11 West Virginia is next on Thursday.
“Teams lose,” Dixon said. “It’s how you respond, and we’ve always responded well.”
The game pitted two of the Big East’s top centers: Gray and 7-2 Roy Hibbert of the Hoyas. Hibbert had the early upper hand, scoring the first six points of the game, but he was shut out the rest of the half and finished with seven points.
Gray also found himself facing the shorter but quicker Green, who was able to drive around the big center.
“When I got here I knew that there would be guys bigger than I am,” the 6-9 Green said. “So I knew that I would have to rely on my quickness. In this game I had to utilize that a lot.”
Gray had seven points and two assists in a 15-0 run that gave the Panthers a 15-point lead. He was so dominant that Krauser, the team’s leading scorer this season, wasn’t needed to score until late in the first half. Krauser committed the Panthers’ first foul, which didn’t come until 3:10 to go in the half, before scoring his first points on a jumper with 1:56 remaining.
The Hoyas closed the half with a 10-2 run with Bowman scoring half the points. Bowman tied the game at 45 on a fast break layup and gave Georgetown the lead for good with a 3-pointer that made it 48-47 with 9:38 to play.
Pittsburgh scored only one field goal over the next 9 minutes before mounting a valiant comeback in the final half-minute. Krauser and Ramon hit 3-pointers to cut the lead to three, and Levance Fields took an easy layup to trim the lead to one with 6 seconds to play instead of setting up a 3-pointer that could have tied the game.
Dixon defended Fields’ decision to go for two instead of 3. He noted that the Panthers got the ball back after Owens’ two free throws, and that Ramon had an open look for a potential game-tying buzzer-beater.
“You’re not going to get a better shot,” Dixon said.