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Hoops on the Horizon: Hoyas’ heartbreak kids

Xavier's Zach Hankins, center, eyes the basket against Georgetown's Jessie Govan (15) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

WASHINGTON — In college basketball, especially with the focus on the 3-point shot, leads are built to be lost. But Georgetown letting a 17-point lead wither away in Wednesday’s 81-75 loss at Xavier has the Hoyas looking for answers.

The fact that this came immediately after a final-minute meltdown in which they saw a 5-point lead disappear in a loss to St. John’s has those bullish after an 11-3 start wondering if this program is still a year or two away.

“We just have to find a way to close out the game,” head coach Patrick Ewing said after the loss to the Red Storm. “We can’t keep making the mental mistakes that we do.”

The inability to close games haunted the Hoyas in a 1-point loss to Syracuse on the road and almost cost them at home against Little Rock (they prevailed in OT after losing a late lead). Just as it takes a group effort to resurrect a once-proud program, it takes a village to lock down W’s with smart play late.

“We gotta just play,” Ewing said, “You know, everybody wants to do it themselves, instead of moving the ball and making the right plays.”

One thing is certain — I’ll have my TV on Fox Sports 1 this Saturday at around 1:50 p.m.

Friday’s Game

Maryland 13-3 (4-1 Big Ten) vs. No. 22 Indiana (12-3, 3-1), 7 p.m., (FS1)

The Terps are fresh off consecutive road conference wins, which equals their total from last winter. While the rally past Minnesota was impressive, avoiding a 40-minute letdown at Rutgers was just as huge: Those were the kinds of games better Terrapin teams had lost in recent seasons. The Hoosiers are coming off a double-digit loss to second ranked Michigan but boast high-scoring freshman Romeo Langford (18.2 points per game) and leads the conference in field goal percentage. IU does the vast majority of its damage inside the arc, as the team ranks 13th in the Big Ten in three-pointers made per game.

Saturday’s Games

No. 4 Virginia (14-0, 2-0 ACC) at Clemson (10-5, 0-2), noon (ACC Network)

One benefit of the Tigers taking College Football’s National Championship? Back-to-back losses to start the conference season sneak under the radar, even though there’s no shame losing to top-ranked Duke or at the Carrier Dome to Syracuse. Clemson’s schedule doesn’t let up, as three of their next four games are against ranked teams. The primary concern for UVa’s defense that leads the nation in scoring defense and is tops in the ACC at stopping the three-pointer? Tigers senior Marcquise Reed averages 19.6 points per game. But the Cavs held the Landover, Maryland, native to 12 points on 5-of-24 shooting over two games last season.

Georgetown (11-5, 1-2 Big East) vs. Providence (10-5, 0-2), noon, (FS1)

Will we ever see highly-touted freshman Mac McClung take the floor against another Big East school? The guard with tons of sizzle hasn’t played a minute due to a sprained ankle since dropping 38 points on Little Rock the Saturday before Christmas. Meanwhile, after losing three of their top four scorers from last season, the Friars are in full-rebuild mode. Ed Cooley’s team ranks last in the Big East in shooting but brings the conference’s top rebounder to D.C. in Alpha Diallo. Too bad the Hoyas possess a one-two punch in the post with senior Jessie Govan and freshman Josh LeBlanc.

American (8-6, 2-1 Patriot League) at Bucknell (8-7, 2-1), noon

Sa’eed Nelson is on fire early in conference play: the junior guard is averaging 24 points on 58 percent shooting. The Bison are three-time defending regular season champs, but minus the inside-outside combination of Zach Thomas and Stephen Brown have taken their lumps this season. They are coming off of an 84-81 win against a Colgate team that beat American by four last weekend.

VCU (11-4, 2-0) at Davidson (11-4, 2-0), 2 p.m. (CBSSN)

Two of the A-10’s new money programs tangle, as the Rams are less than a decade removed from dominating the CAA and the Wildcats still have fans who miss the Southern Conference. While VCU has served as a launching pad for coaches to Power Five conference programs this century, Bob McKillop is in midway through his 30th season with the school. He also has Jon Axel Gudmundsson at his disposal: the junior from Iceland hopes to heat up from outside Saturday (He’s 0-8 from three-point range in conference play) against a pesky Rams defense.

Navy (5-9, 2-1 Patriot League) vs. Boston University (8-8, 1-2), 2 p.m.

Home teams are 10-5 so far this Patriot League season. The Mids are coming off of a loss at American where they shot just 12 percent from three point range. Just another night of misfiring during a season where they’ve been offensively challenged — the team ranks last in the conference in scoring, shooting, three-point shooting and turnover margin. The Terriers are led by big man Max Mahoney, who leads the conference in shooting and ranks fourth in scoring.

George Washington (5-10, 1-1 Atlantic 10) vs. Richmond (6-9, 0-2), 4 p.m. (ESPN+)

Both teams are looking to shake off less than ideal starts in conference play. Somehow the Colonials let a 22-point first half lead against Dayton dissolve thanks to major droughts, scoring just five points in the last eight minutes of the first half and going scoreless in the final 4:04 of regulation. The Spiders are a precarious 0-2 to begin league play despite Jacob Gilyard’s 23 points per game while shooting 12-25 from three-point range. Richmond needs the Grant Golden from the Rhode Island loss (17 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists) more than the Golden from the Dayton defeat (4 points and 4 turnovers).

Howard (7-9, 1-1 MEAC) vs. Bethune-Cookman (5-10, 0-1), 4 p.m.

The Bison snapped a six-game losing streak and bounced back from their loss to Florida A&M by blasting Maryland-Eastern Shore by 40. More impressive than R.J. Cole’s 26 points was the fact that they held the Hawks to 21 percent shooting. We all know Howard can score, but if their defense can improve than the one that ranks 327th in Division I, there may just be decent conference campaign ahead.

Sunday’s Game

George Mason (8-8, 2-1 Atlantic 10) at Rhode Island (8-6, 1-1), 5:30 p.m. (NBCSN) 

While the Patriots are kicking themselves after shooting 10 percent from three-point range in a loss at home to Davidson, head coach Dave Paulsen’s team is off to its best start since joining the league earlier this decade. Paulsen hopes Otis Livingston II returns to form after the senior shot 2-for-11 against the Wildcats. Rams first-year head coach David Cox has big shoes to fill — before Dan Hurley left for UConn he had guided the Rams to consecutive NCAA Tournaments.

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