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James Akinjo steps up to lift Georgetown over Xavier

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By Gene Wang Gene Wang Sports reporter covering local and national college football and basketball Email Bio Follow January 31 at 11:31 PM A virtuoso performance in the second half from James Akinjo was just the push the Georgetown men’s basketball team needed to recover from a shaky start and beat visiting Xavier, 80-73, on Thursday night.

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The freshman guard scored all of his game-high 23 points, his most in a Big East game this season, in the second half to lead the Hoyas (14-7, 4-4) to their second consecutive win

The victory moved them into third place in the conference behind Villanova and Marquette

Akinjo’s three-pointer with 4:55 left in the second half put Georgetown ahead to stay at 67-66. Graduate forward Trey Mourning followed with a three-pointer, and Akinjo added another to expand the lead to 73-68 with 3:17 to play

The Hoyas trailed by eight at halftime at Capital One Arena

“I didn’t have to say anything to him,” Hoyas Coach Patrick Ewing said of Akinjo, who shot 6 for 10 and added five rebounds, four assists and a game-high five steals. “He believes in himself, sometimes to a fault, but he thinks he can leap tall buildings.”

The margin swelled to 79-70 with 15 seconds left on the heels of six straight points, including four free throws from Akinjo. He also had a steal and a defensive rebound in that stretch. He made all seven of free throw attempts and went 4 of 5 from beyond the arc in the second half

Georgetown beat the Musketeers (11-11, 3-6) for just the third time in 13 games, including the conference tournament, since the formation of the rebooted Big East in 2013-14

Freshman forward Josh Le­Blanc chipped in 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting with three steals, providing momentum for the Hoyas as they gird for a showdown with traditional Big East rival Villanova on Sunday in Philadelphia

“When we called timeouts, we actually said we wanted to focus on defense and getting stops,” LeBlanc said. “So when we did that, we just came together and talked about it, and it was just like chain reaction. Everybody was locked in. Everybody was playing defense.”

The Hoyas took their first lead of the game at 58-57 on LeBlanc’s layup with 9:37 remaining in the second half. Reserve guard Greg Malinowski had the assist after wresting an offensive rebound away from a Xavier player underneath the basket and passing to a driving LeBlanc

The basket was part of an 8-0 flurry bookended by three-pointers from Jagan Mosely. The junior guard had made just five three-pointers this season through the first 20 games

A 10-3 burst capped by Akiinjo’s three-point play to open the second half enabled Georgetown to draw within 39-38 with 17:02 to go

The only points for Xavier in that time came on sophomore guard Paul Scruggs’s second three-pointer of the game

The second meeting this season between the schools featured one starter for both teams who missed Xavier’s 81-75 victory over the Hoyas on Jan. 9 at Cintas Center, where Georgetown was unable to protect a 17-point lead

Guard Mac McClung sat out that game with a sore ankle, and the Hoyas managed their second-fewest points in a Big East game this season. The Big East’s leader in scoring among freshman has been rolling since then, however, averaging more than 22 points over the past four games entering Thursday

McClung finished with 11 points and five assists against Xavier

The Musketeers, meanwhile, did not have starting point guard Quentin Goodin in the first matchup against Georgetown. The junior captain and stabilizing presence in the backcourt is within reach of moving into the top 10 in career assists for Xavier

Goodin (14 points) is one of the few Musketeers with extensive experience on this season’s young team. Xavier’s roster includes no seniors and eight players who are either freshmen or sophomores, leaving Coach Travis Steele to use a seven-man rotation on a regular basis

Steele is in his first season after taking over for longtime mentor Chris Mack, who left for Louisville

In his second season at Georgetown, Ewing deployed a rare zone defense for much of the first half that bothered Xavier and allowed the Hoyas to chip away at a double-digit deficit to trail 36-28 at halftime

Georgetown scored six consecutive points late in the first half after the Musketeers had opened a 23-13 advantage. The second of those three field goals came on LeBlanc’s one-handed dunk

The Hoyas missed all eight of their attempts from beyond the arc in the first half against an opponent ranked ninth out of 10 teams in the Big East in three-point field goal percentage defense

It was the fewest points for Georgetown in any half this season. The previous low was 31 in the second half of a 74-71 loss to visiting Marquette on Jan. 15

“In the first half, I feel like I was trying to get everybody involved,” Akinjo said. “It was a low-scoring first half, so as point guard, I felt like it was my job to come out and provide that boost of scoring that we kind of needed to uplift us to this win today.”

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