Stifling defense gives Georgetown victory against No. 8 Pitt

WASHINGTON -- At halftime of the biggest Big East game of the regular season, Georgetown coach John Thompson III had a simple but important message: Calm down.

In the second half, the Hoyas were a little less ragged than Pittsburgh -- and their tenacious defense made the difference as they slogged their way to their 11th straight win and sole possession of first place in the Big East.

No. 12 Georgetown beat Pitt (No. 8 ESPN/USA Today; No. 10 AP) 61-53 on Saturday, overcoming the return of Aaron Gray and giving the Hoyas their longest winning streak in 12 years. A game marred by turnovers and poor outside shooting was nevertheless a suspenseful one, and it wasn't decided until a backdoor layup and two steals in an 8-2 run near the end.

"I thought we were very antsy, very anxious," Thompson said. "That was part of the talk at halftime -- just relax and play. But that's human nature, that's natural. If you can't get excited about this game, then something's wrong with you. But we had to settle down and do what we do."

Jonathan Wallace scored 17 points, Jeff Green had 14, and Roy Hibbert added 12 for the Hoyas (22-5, 12-2), who haven't had the top seed in the Big East tournament since 1989. They finish the regular season next week with games against Syracuse and Connecticut.

"You can't be unhappy about the position we're in -- even I can't," said Thompson, who is notoriously averse to commenting on his team's position in the standings or rankings.

The game was tied 49-49 with 3 1/2 minutes to play when Green hit Jessie Sapp for a backdoor layup. Wallace followed with a steal and layup. A minute later, Green made a steal and was falling out of bounds against a double team when he threw a long pass to Sapp for a fast-break layup that pushed the lead to 57-51.

That was all the cushion the Hoyas needed.

"We had a lot of energy, and we let it out the wrong way," Green said. "At halftime, Coach told us to calm down. We converted that energy into the defensive end, and we got a lot of big stops and a lot of rebounds."

Pitt (24-5, 11-3) drew inspiration from the return of 7-foot center Gray, who wasn't expected to play because of a sprained left ankle. Gray had 10 points and six rebounds as a reserve, while Sam Young and Ronald Ramon scored 11 points apiece for the Panthers, who had won seven of eight and had been 6-0 on the road in conference play.

The Panthers lost despite taking 20 more shots. They grabbed a season-high 22 offensive rebounds. But they also shot 12 percent lower than Georgetown (44-32) and shot 16 free throws to the Hoyas' 29.

"It's rare that you lose a game when you get 20 more attempts and have less turnovers than the other team, but that's what happened," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "It was two very good teams playing together. It just came down to the team that got to the free-throw line more."

Gray, who missed the win over Seton Hall on Monday, entered the game with 14:55 remaining in the first half. The injury slowed Gray, but he made 4 of 7 shots in 21 minutes.

"I wasn't my usual self," said Gray, who was wearing a boot on his swollen ankle as he walked to the team bus. "It hurt me, and it hurt the team."

Pitt beat Georgetown 74-69 on Jan. 13 in a well-played game that featured 60-percent shooting, good passing and relatively few turnovers, but the rematch quickly turned sloppy. The Panthers started 5-for-20 from the field, but the Hoyas couldn't take advantage because of seven turnovers in the first eight minutes. Hibbert and Green were limited by first-half foul trouble.

The game was so ragged that the fans considered a five-point lead worthy of a standing ovation late in the half. The Hoyas led 29-26 at the break.

Hibbert opened the second half with two inside baskets to put Georgetown ahead by seven, but Pitt responded with a 13-0 run that included 3-pointers by Antonio Graves and Young. Ramon's 3-pointer with 11:55 to play gave the Panthers a 44-36 lead, forcing the Hoyas to call timeout while Pitt's players traded chest-bumps at midcourt.

But the Hoyas slowly closed the gap, with Green scoring on a nice spin move and a putback of his own missed jumper. Two free throws from DaJuan Summers tied the game with 6:10 to play, and the defense took over from there.

"First place -- that feels nice," Hibbert said. "But we've got two more games to play, and it would be nice to bring home the regular-season championship to Georgetown."