CINCINNATI — The Bearcats got their largest crowd of the season rocking by overcoming a 12-point deficit against a team that was deep in foul trouble. Once again, they couldn't close it out because of a long stretch of cold shooting.
Cincinnati went ahead with 6:53 to play, but managed only one field goal and two free throws the rest of the way, allowing No. 15 Georgetown to rally for a 62-55 victory on Friday night.
It felt familiar.
The Bearcats (19-7, 7-6 Big East) lost at home to Pittsburgh 62-52 a week earlier by going the final 9:21 without a field goal. Their only late basket on Friday came when the Hoyas (19-4, 9-3) let Cashmere Wright drive for a layup in the closing seconds.
What bothered coach Mick Cronin the most was not the poor shooting – that's been a trend for the Bearcats – but the way their defense broke down, allowing the Hoyas to snap their streak of four straight losses to Cincinnati.
Georgetown hadn't won in Cincinnati since the 2006-07 season.
"We panicked in the first half," Cronin said. "We let our offensive struggles affect our defense. You can't do that in basketball. I was really disappointed in that.
"We'd never panicked against Georgetown. That's why we've been able to be successful. We went five years not giving up a backdoor layup to Georgetown. Five years! We gave up four or five of them tonight."
Now, the Hoyas have won seven in a row overall, the longest active win streak in the Big East. They've done it with a patient but low-scoring offense – only 64.3 points per game – and a defense that allows only 55.7 points per game, seventh nationally.
The two players that have steadied them through the last few weeks made the difference at the end. Otto Porter Jr. scored 16 points while playing in foul trouble, and Markel Starks hit the biggest shots down the stretch.
Starks hit a go-ahead 3-pointer and made five free throws in final minute, helping the Hoyas stay atop the Big East. They were tied with Syracuse and Marquette heading into the weekend games.
Starks finished with 17 points. Freshman D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera added 14 points, and Nate Lubick had a team-high four assists.
Cincinnati has lost three of its last four games with poor shooting. The Bearcats shot only 31.5 percent from the field and went 4 of 24 behind the arc. JaQuon Parker led with 15 points.
Wright established a Cincinnati record for career steals, but went only 5 of 14 from the field while scoring 12 points. Wright has been struggling to score since spraining his right knee and aggravating his left shoulder in the last few weeks. He's only 10 of 49 from behind the arc in the last seven games, his shot thrown off by the injuries.
He's optimistic the Bearcats – who have dropped out of the Top 25 with their recent slump – can get turned around by tournament time.
"We realize all you've got to do is get to the (NCAA) tournament," Wright said. "That's what it's all about. All of that will take care of itself. We're just trying to fine-tune things and get back to where we were as a team and stop making these mistakes on defense."
Georgetown's surge has been led by Starks, a junior guard, and Porter, a sophomore forward who leads the Hoyas in scoring and rebounding. Both were in foul trouble in the second half, limiting Georgetown's offense and forcing the Hoyas to go to a zone defense for a while.
The 6-foot-8 Porter helped the Hoyas get off to a 13-9 lead, hitting two baskets and a free throw while the Bearcats' long-standing shooting problems continued. They missed 11 of their first 14 shots from the field and 5 of 8 from the free-throw line.
Smith-Rivera hit a 3-pointer – the first by either team after 12 combined misses – and had two free throws, and Lubick scored a couple baskets inside off passes for a 29-20 advantage, the biggest lead by either team in the half.
Georgetown was more aggressive at attacking the basket in the second half. Porter had four points during an 8-0 run that built the lead to 43-31 while the Bearcats struggled to make even a close-up shot, drawing groans from the season-high crowd of 12,842.
Parker got the Bearcats going. He scored 11 consecutive points against Georgetown's zone defense, including a driving back shot that gave Cincinnati a 51-50 lead with 6:53 to go. The comeback ended there.
Porter picked up his fourth foul during Parker's scoring spurt and went to the bench, temporarily costing the Hoyas their leading scorer and rebounder. Porter got back into the game and made a pair of free throws for a 57-53 lead with 1:16 left. The Bearcats never threatened again.
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