MUNCIE, Ind. (AP)—Maybe Georgetown expected Roy Hibbert to do too much, or perhaps the Hoyas were distracted by all the sibling talk about Wednesday night’s game.
Whatever the case, the fifth-ranked Hoyas sure didn’t look like themselves at Ball State.
Hibbert took only 10 shots, finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, and Georgetown shot 34.8 percent in the second half before holding off outmanned Ball State 57-48.
“Free throws and turnovers hurt us,” coach John Thompson III said. “We’ve got to take care of that. I don’t think we were flustered, we just didn’t execute the way we were supposed to.”
Of course, the game wasn’t played under the expected circumstances, either.
It was originally scheduled as a matchup pitting Thompson against his brother, Ronny, the ex-Ball State coach. That changed when Ronny Thompson resigned in July amid an NCAA scandal and after accusing Ball State officials of creating a “racially hostile environment.”
So when Thompson III returned to Muncie, Ind., some wondered how the crowd would react to the Hoyas coach and his team. With most of the students already home for Thanksgiving and the football team sitting near the Georgetown bench, the crowd was polite. It actually booed louder for Hibbert, the preseason All-American, than Thompson during pregame introductions.
On the court, Georgetown (3-0) struggled to take advantage of Ball State’s biggest weaknesses—size, talent and depth.
Ball State needed two new walk-ons just to fill out its 10-man the roster, and the Cardinals were so depleted that Rob Giles, who didn’t play in Ball State’s last game Nov. 14 because of a stiff back, started.
Even worse was the news they would have to play without starting swingman Anthony Newell, the Cardinals’ top scorer. He’s out six to eight weeks with a crack in his left foot. Newell’s absence not only left the Cardinals with only seven scholarship players but with nobody taller than 6-foot-4 to contend with the 7-2 Hibbert.
Easy pickings, right?
The Cardinals (0-3) did the only thing they could to take away Hibbert, spending most of the night in a zone.
“We had to give something up,” new Ball State coach Billy Taylor said. “So we tried to give more support to the low post and make them make outside shots.”
While it wasn’t pretty, it was effective.
Peyton Stovall, who became the 24th player in school history to join the 1,000-point club, led Ball State with 16 points. Melvin Goins, with 11, was the only other Cardinal in double figures, and eventually Hibbert got frustrated with all the double and triple teams that produced Georgetown’s lowest point total of this young season. They had score 68 and 74 points in their first two games.
“My job is to keep working and I felt like I did that tonight,” Hibbert said. “At the beginning of the game, the guards were hitting shots and trying to get me the ball.”
At first, it looked like it would be easy.
Georgetown connected on five 3-pointers in the first half and limited Ball State to only eight baskets—two on goaltending calls—as they went on a 22-7 run over an eight-minute stretch and built a 31-18 halftime lead.
Then Thompson changed it up.
Trying to speed up the tempo in the second half, the Hoyas appeared headed toward the expected blowout when they took a 42-26 lead with 13:27 to go.
Instead, the Cardinals clamped down on defense, forced turnovers and began scoring in transition. The combination allowed them to methodically get back in the game.
With 9:54 left, they were within 10. At the five-minute mark, Ball State trailed just 49-41, and with two minutes to go after Goins made two free throws, Georgetown’s lead was only 51-45.
“This is the first real game we’ve been in,” Thompson said.
But Ball State finally ran out of bodies and energy, and the Hoyas made six of their eight free throws in the final 33 seconds to hold on for the win.
“If we want to be a good team, we have to show significant improvement,” Thompson said. “But it’s good to have learning experiences and walk away with a win, as opposed to walking away from learning experiences in the past without a win.”