WASHINGTON -- An acrobatic tip-in from a player who has scored all of 49 points in three seasons at Georgetown has put No. 5 Louisville into must-win mode.
Aaron Bowen contorted his body enough to guide in the ball after a missed layup by D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera with 3 1/2 minutes to play Saturday, the unlikely winning basket in the Hoyas' 53-51 victory which was the Cardinals' third straight loss.
"I tell l him all the time that he's probably one of the most athletic people on this planet, and when the shot went up, he just came out of nowhere," said guard Markel Starks, using the type of hyperbole not usually associated with tight-laced Georgetown. "And he just, I don't know, he just ... it was unbelievable."
Coach John Thompson III was rolling his eyes as he listened to that description, but there was plenty that happened Saturday that might have been deemed unbelievable only a couple of weeks ago. A Hoyas team that put up stinkers against South Florida, Marquette and Pittsburgh has now beaten ranked teams Notre Dame and Louisville in consecutive games.
And the Hoyas (14-4, 4-3 Big East) are doing it without Greg Whittington, their second-leading scorer on the season. Whittington is sidelined indefinitely due to academic reasons, the main reason that players like Bowen are getting some minutes.
"I'm thinking of suspending a player," quipped Louisville coach Rick Pitino, when told that Georgetown is 4-1 without Whittington.
"We might have been 5-0 with him," the coach said. "He is a loss. It's a big loss. But at the same time we have people that have stepped up and hopefully will continue to step up."
Meanwhile, the Cardinals (16-4, 4-3) have their longest losing streak since January 2010. No. 1 in the country a week ago, Louisville has fallen to Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown and has Pittsburgh at home on Monday.
"We have to get this win. It's a must game for us," Pitino said. "Because four (in a row), now you're on the verge of getting a sub-.500 record in the league, and you don't want to mess with that."
Pitino has plenty to sort out before then. He shook up the lineup by going with Luke Hancock over leading scorer Russ Smith, who is being asked to distribute more and score less after three poor shooting games this month.
Also, Peyton Siva got into foul trouble and was held scoreless for the first time since he was a freshman. Siva missed a potential game-winning jumper with 1.4 seconds to play.
And there's the ongoing free throw issue. The Cardinals went 12 for 12 from the line in the first half but just 4 for 10 in the second, echoing a problem from recent games.
Smith still got his time on the court -- he scored 12 points in 29 minutes -- but he didn't look fully comfortable in his new role and had only two assists.
"I'm just trying to stay positive about the whole situation and look for my guys," he said. "I didn't get a chance to create my own shot because there are going to be some bad shots, and Coach doesn't want that, so I've just got to get the offensive moving a bit."
Bowen's basket gave Georgetown a 52-50 lead with 3 1/2 minutes remaining. Louisville's Chane Behanan made 1 of 2 free throws to cut the lead to one with 2:22 to play, and the Cardinals had several chances to take the lead after that, including a disputed held ball that gave them possession again with 30 seconds to play.
Louisville dribbled down the court, but Siva's jumper was off target. Georgetown's Otto Porter grabbed the rebound -- his 12th of the game -- and was fouled. He made 1 of 2 free throws to finish with 17 points.
Starks scored 17 for the Hoyas.
Smith, Hancock and Gorgui Dieng all scored 12 points to lead the Cardinals.
The game had an extra half-minute of action during the second half when play continued while the clock was stopped at 6:07, but the glitch didn't appear to affect the outcome.
As for Bowen, he got a spot on the postgame podium after the biggest basket of his college career. Naturally, his cellphone went off while Thompson was speaking.
"See?" Thompson said. "AB's not used to coming in here."
Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP