No. 19 Hoyas run over Bearcats
The scoreboard kept track of Austin Freeman’s points. The trainer kept track of his blood sugar levels.
Both were fine, and so was No. 19 Georgetown. Six days after being taken to the hospital and diagnosed with diabetes, Freeman scored 24 points Saturday as the Hoyas clinched a first-round bye in the Big East tournament with a 74-47 win over Cincinnati in both teams’ regular season finale.
"I’m proud of him," teammate Greg Monroe said. "It’s so serious. It’s a life-changing thing that you find out, but once he was back on the court, he was the same. Off the court, he was the same. He just took it all in stride."
With the doctor who heads the Georgetown Diabetes Center and trainer Lorry Michel watching his every move, Freeman played 30 minutes and made 8 of 15 shots, including 4 of 7 3-pointers. Monroe had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and Chris Wright had 16 points as Georgetown (20-9, 10-8) finished in the top half of the 16-team Big East, avoiding the dreaded Tuesday game in a conference tournament that has been expanded to five days.
"I’m fine, I’m fine," the soft-spoken Freeman said. "It was just good to be out there again to be playing with my teammates and just doing what I do. It was just a lot of fun to be out there. … It was just the same."
Oh, but it wasn’t. Georgetown didn’t have any seniors to honor on senior day, so Saturday became a de facto Austin Freeman Day. It started when he was given a standing ovation when presented with a game ball by coach John Thompson III in recognition of the junior guard’s 1,000th career point, scored a few games ago.
Then came another standing ovation when Freeman was announced with the starting lineup. He scored Georgetown’s first basket with a layup, then hit a pair of 3-pointers. Then he drove the paint, drew heavy contact but no foul as he forced his way to a layup that prompted Cincinnati to call timeout, the crowd to rise to its feet and several sections of fans to start chanting "Aus-tin Free-man."
Among the homemade signs at the Verizon Center: "Awesome Austin," "We love you, Austin" and "AFREE15," a reference to his jersey number. Freeman played only four minutes fewer than his average of 34. When he left the game, he would sometimes sit near the far end of the bench next to Michel, who would monitor his blood sugar levels.
Thompson called the week "emotional" and "trying" but expressed guarded confidence that his leading scorer was back to his old basketball self.
"As long as we can limit the sways in his levels, we’re going to see a lot more games this year like that," the coach said.
Freeman was thought to have a stomach virus when he missed Monday’s loss to West Virginia and was limited in a loss to Notre Dame two days earlier. He was diagnosed Monday night, returned to practice Wednesday and will have the university doctor attending all of his practices and games for the rest of the season.
The bench-thin Hoyas need Freeman to have any chance at making a run in the postseason. There is no reliable scorer outside the starting five, a lack of depth that was starting to show as Georgetown entered Saturday’s game on a 1-4 skid.
"The last two games, one of the key parts of what we do was not feeling good," Thompson said. "So to go in there today, knowing he’s going to be there, makes a big difference."
Freshman Lance Stephenson scored a career-high 23 points to lead Cincinnati (16-14, 7-11), one of the eight teams that will have to play five games in five days to win the Big East tournament. Deonta Vaughn, averaging nearly 12 points, went 0-for-3 from the field and finished with two points.
The Bearcats have lost five of six, including three in a row to top 20 teams. They trailed 29-26 at the half before Freeman and the Hoyas turned the game into a rout.
"The second half we got totally outplayed," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "We struggled to make layups, we struggled to make free throws, struggled to make open shots. Playing hard, focused and all that stuff, that’s just talk. You’ve got to get the ball in the basket. We play in the Big East. We’re not going to be able to just outhustle people. That only goes so far."
Freeman made the score 40-32 early in the second half with a 3-pointer, and pushed the lead to 50-35 with two free throws when he was fouled after making a steal — leading to another standing ovation.
"I’m not happy he came out and killed me today," Cronin said. "But I’m very happy for him that he’s able to play and he’s going to be healthy and have a great career, because he’s a great player."