WASHINGTON — Georgetown coach John Thompson III was asked to describe his demeanor at halftime Saturday after watching his Hoyas go without a field goal for nearly 10 minutes and fall behind by as many as 19 points against Connecticut.
Before Thompson could answer, two players piped up. With a knowing smile, Austin Freeman said: "He was calm." Then Greg Monroe also offered: "He was calm." After a pause, Monroe added, with perfect comedic timing: "for a couple seconds."
Whatever Thompson told his team, it worked wonders. Freeman scored 28 of his career-high 33 points in the second half, and No. 12 Georgetown came back to beat No. 13 Connecticut 72-69 in a Big East matchup.
"In the first half, our execution, I thought, was horrible. And that's the only way to put it," Thompson said.
"We were just out there running around," he added. "Our focus at both ends of the floor was lacking. And they realized it. And they decided at halftime: 'We're not going to do that.'"
Buoyed by scoring 16 consecutive points, UConn led 40-21 with a little more than a minute left in the first half, and the margin was 40-25 at halftime. But Freeman scored eight points during a 10-0 run by the hosts that turned things around.
"It's the most heartbreaking loss this year. It's not even close," said UConn coach Jim Calhoun, whose team lost by two points at Cincinnati and by three against Kentucky.
He said his team wasted a "brilliant first half" with an "awful five minutes" early in the second – "when we took our 20 minutes of work, threw it away and said, 'OK, now let's play an even game.'"
Monroe added 15 points and 10 rebounds for Georgetown (12-2, 3-1), while Chris Wright scored 14. The Hoyas' noted defense was tight down the stretch, holding the Huskies without a field goal over the final 3 1/2 minutes.
Stanley Robinson led UConn (11-4, 2-2) with 16 points and eight rebounds, but he only scored four in the second half. Calhoun thought his team should have tried to get the ball to Robinson more, and the coach was particularly critical of guard Kemba Walker.
Robinson delivered three resounding dunks early — off a follow, off his steal that led to a fastbreak the other way, and off an alley-oop from Walker. That last jam opened the big run by the Huskies that allowed them to go from trailing by a point to leading 34-19 with less than 5 minutes left in the first half.
The Hoyas went scoreless for more than 5 1/2 minutes – and without anything other than a free throw for nearly twice that. Georgetown missed 11 consecutive shots during that drought, and at one point, its shooting accuracy for the game dipped to 24 percent: 6 for 25.
Freeman, though, made the difference after halftime.
These two teams are rich with tradition and high school All-Americans, and there were 25 scouts from 17 NBA teams at the game, according to Georgetown. All of those pairs of professional eyes surely took note of Freeman's performance.
The junior guard from Mitchellville, Md., had never scored more than 21 points in a college game. But he went 11 for 17 on a mix of drives and 3-pointers in the second half after shooting 1 for 3 in the first.
"Part of the thing is you hear sometimes about Georgetown, 'They run a five-man system. Nobody is a star.' Austin Freeman was a star today, I'll tell you that," Calhoun said.
Deflecting credit to teammates for finding him with good passes, Freeman was pleased to note that UConn "left me open."
He contributed in other ways, too, collecting seven rebounds and three steals and assisting on Monroe's layup with less than 10 seconds left.
Then there was what Thompson said "might have been the biggest play of the game."
After his 3-pointer put Georgetown ahead 66-65 with 3:10 left, Freeman took a charge called on Jerome Dyson, who was held to 12 points. As two teammates helped him up off the court, fans began chanting, "Aus-tin! Free-man!" — for all the points Freeman was scoring, it was his grit at the other end that drew the most vocal praise."There's growth each year at all ends of the floor. Austin is doing a much better job – and he has to continue to do a better job — of playing the game, instead of watching the game," Thompson said. "He's more engaged when the ball's not in his hands."