MILWAUKEE (AP)—Coaches often turn to historical figures for help, conjuring the words of legendary sports figures or military leaders to motivate their players.
Georgetown coach John Thompson III? He’s a Kenny Rogers man.
Or at least he was after watching his 11th-ranked Hoyas claw their way back for a 70-68 overtime victory over No. 21 Marquette on Saturday.
Given several opportunities to fold ‘em, or so Rogers’ old country song goes, the Hoyas walked away atop the Big East standings.
“Seriously, this is a brutal league,” Thompson said. “I’ve said many times, we’re still sitting at the table—Kenny Rogers’ ‘The Gambler,’ we’ll count our money when it’s done.”
Georgetown (24-4, 14-3) came into the game tied with No. 13 Louisville for first place in the Big East standings. The Cardinals host Villanova on Sunday.
With the victory over Marquette (21-7, 11-6), the Hoyas have won 11 of their last 13, with the losses coming at Louisville and Syracuse. Roy Hibbert and Jonathan Wallace scored 20 points each for Georgetown, and Wallace made two big plays that figured heavily in the outcome.
First Wallace was fouled on a 3-point attempt with 2.8 seconds left in regulation, and made all three free throws despite earsplitting crowd noise to send the game into overtime.
“I just knew I had to make the free throws,” Wallace said. “I knew what was at stake.”
Hibbert wasn’t worried.
“He’s as cold as ice on the free throw line,” Hibbert said.
Then, with his team down three early in overtime, Wallace banked in a 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down.
“We don’t have a defense for the end-of-the-shot-clock, backboard 3 from 25 feet,” Marquette coach Tom Crean said with a shrug.
The Hoyas later took the lead on two free throws by DaJuan Summers with 1:55 remaining and held on to beat the Golden Eagles.
Crean said he wasn’t upset with the effort because it was another sign his team is improving after a midseason lull.
Despite shaky free throw shooting and throwing away too many offensive possessions after building a lead early in the second half, Crean said the Golden Eagles still had a chance to beat a very good team.
“We found a way to be right there,” Crean said. “It’s not a moral victory by any stretch, but we can get better. We are getting better. I wish we had the win to show for it today.”
Wesley Matthews tied his career high with 22 points for Marquette, which had a five-game winning streak snapped.
“We felt that that was our win,” Matthews said. “It was there, we had the lead. We pressed on the lead and then we gave it back. That’s hard.”
Marquette led for most of regulation, building an 11-point cushion with a 13-2 run 8 minutes into the second half. But a long offensive dry spell allowed Georgetown to rally.
Dwight Burke dunked a rebound to put Marquette ahead 61-59 with 31 seconds left, but he missed the free throw for the three-point play. Patrick Ewing Jr. then was fouled by Burke and made one of two free throws to cut the lead to one.
Matthews hit two free throws on the other end to put the Golden Eagles up three with 7.9 seconds left—but James fouled Wallace on a 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds remaining. He made all three free throws, tying the game.
Asked about the foul, Crean stared back blankly.
“I’m not going there, anywhere near that today,” Crean said.
Crean was pleased with the way his undersized big men defended Hibbert, despite the 20 points on 7-for-11 shooting.
“He’s 7-1,” Matthews said. “I don’t know how much he weighs, but he’s going to get position. He’s a good player.”
Marquette played Hibbert mostly man-to-man, something he isn’t used to seeing.
“It was fun, but at the same time, they made us work for every basket we got,” Hibbert said.
The close game put Georgetown that much closer to a regular-season conference title.
“We could have packed it in at several points during that game, but our guys were just a little too resilient,” Thompson said.