WASHINGTON – Of all the various advantages 18th-ranked Georgetown figured to enjoy against his young Howard team, Bison coach Kevin Nickelberry seemed most upset with one specific statistic.
"They shot 42 free throws. We must be the foulingest team in America," Nickelberry said, shaking his head. And then for emphasis, he repeated that number: "42 free throws."
After being shut out for nearly 10 minutes at the start Saturday, allowing Georgetown to score the first 17 points, Howard came back to make things rather interesting, cutting its deficit to two before losing to the Hoyas 62-48.
"We were worried about skill vs. will, to be honest with you. They're a good skill team," Nickelberry said. "We had to will them to play ugly, play our style, and we tried to do that in the second half."
It worked for a while. After scoring the first five points after halftime, Howard (3-6) kept chipping away, and when Simuel Frazier made a pull-up jumper with about 12½ minutes to play, he cut Georgetown's lead to 34-32.
"We felt we had a shot," Nickelberry said.
Even if Georgetown coach John Thompson III was tempted to bring his players to the sideline while they were allowing that lead slip away, he resisted the urge. With a team as inexperienced as his Hoyas (8-1) — a total of 10 freshmen and sophomores — Thompson wanted to see them get out of the jam by themselves. And they did.
"They've got to figure some things out on their own," Thompson said. "We can call a timeout, but I wanted to see who was going to step up, who was going to talk, who was going to try to make adjustments on their own.
"I mean, yes, we can go debate the nuances of whether that's a good coaching move or not. But this group needs to figure out at certain points of the game, 'OK, we need to handle this. We need to talk about this. We need to grow up.' Because they know ... what we should do."
It was still a two-point margin at 38-36 when Howard had the ball and a chance to tie or go ahead, but Prince Okoroh was called for traveling along the baseline. The Bison's next possession ended with Frazier fumbling the ball out of bounds on a wild drive through the lane.
The Hoyas stifled Howard's offense in part by turning to a full-court press.
"We hadn't seen that on tape yet," Nickelberry said, noting that Georgetown generally has relied on a 1-2-2 zone.
"We hadn't really worked on that. ... As a young team, we had to adjust. By the time we adjusted," he added, "it was too late."
Mike Phillips led Howard with 14 points, and Dadrian Collins added 11.
Freshman Otto Porter scored 13 for Georgetown, which got 12 apiece from Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson.
When Georgetown's Markel Starks dropped a no-look pass back to Porter for a fast-break dunk, the hosts' lead was back up to 55-44 with about 2½ minutes to go.
Georgetown entered The Associated Press Top 25 on Monday, thanks in part to victories over ranked teams Memphis and Alabama, and knew what to expect from Howard.
"Coach told us before: It was their biggest game of the season. So we knew that they were going to come out and compete with us," Clark said. "They did. They definitely played harder than us today."
Clark and Hollis Thompson — who isn't related to the coach — went a combined 3 for 18 on field-goal tries, part of a rough shooting day for both teams. Neither quite made 33 percent from the field.
Howard missed its first 11 shots, until Collins made a 3-pointer from the left wing with slightly more than 10½ minutes left in the first half.
But the Bison didn't fold.
"We're definitely tougher (than in the past)," said junior Calvin Thompson, who scored six points. "Coach brought in some players who want to win. Before, we just had people who just wanted to get a scholarship and graduate. But now we've actually got basketball players."