LOUISVILLE, Ky. — No. 4 Louisville's late rally had the Cardinals believing they would win just like they had so many times over the last year. This one had an empty ending.
Markel Starks scored 16 of his career-high 20 points in the second half and No. 12 Georgetown snapped the Cardinals' 20-game home winning streak with a 71-68 victory Wednesday night in the Big East opener for both teams.
"We have to sleep on this and put this behind us and get better with practice," Louisville guard Russ Smith said. "This loss is motivating for us. It's a negative we have to turn it into a positive."
Louisville (12-1, 0-1) had been one of six Division I teams that came into play Wednesday without a loss and rallied from an 11-point deficit to tie late before the young Hoyas (11-1, 1-0) put the Cardinals away with clutch free throws.
"They made their free throws and when you break it down, we missed a lot of free throws that would have kept us in the game — in the hunt," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said.
Georgetown freshman Otto Porter had 14 points and 14 rebounds, including two key ones late that helped fend off the Cardinals.
Kyle Kuric finished with 17 points and Peyton Siva had 15 for Louisville.
Georgetown, picked to finish 10th in the Big East, hasn't lost since falling to Kansas on Nov. 21. This was their grittiest effort yet, coming from behind to build a big lead and then held on when Louisville rallied late in front of a raucous crowd.
Trailing 63-52, the Cardinals went on an 11-0 run sparked when Smith hit a 3 in the corner and Siva made two key plays, including hitting a floater off the glass before Gorgui Dieng scored down low to tie the score with 2:01 left.
Porter followed up a miss by Henry Sims with a layup, then grabbed a defensive rebound on the other end that led to two free throws by Sims that made it 67-63 with 1:12 left. Porter added two free throws to push the margin to six before Smith hit a 3-pointer to cut it to 69-66 with 21 seconds left.
But Porter hit two more free throws to seal it.
"I don't really blame the guys, I just think we haven't had a whole lot of practice and weren't cohesive, but we tried hard," Pitino said. "If we continue to try hard, we will get our wins."
Louisville had been off to its best start since 1974-75 and its longest home winning streak since 1984 even though the Cardinals needed to rally to win their last three nonconference games. They play No. 3 Kentucky at Rupp Arena next on Saturday.
Hollis Thompson, who finished with 10 points, hit a jumper and then made a 3 to put the Hoyas up 51-47 with just under 9 minutes left. As play came toward the Louisville end, referee Karl Hess assessed a technical on the Cardinals' bench and Jason Clark hit both free throws to make it a six-point game.
Pitino was adamant about the call, coming out to halfcourt to state his case and later talking to referee Jim Burr at the next media timeout.
"I was telling Kyle not to go under (a screen)," Pitino said. "His name is Karl, and he thought I was talking to him about defending screens."
After Kuric hit two free throws, Starks made consecutive 3s to give Georgetown a 59-49 lead with 6:06 left. Kuric made his fifth 3, but Sims answered with a jump hook over Dieng and then found Starks cutting down the lane for a layup that made it 63-52 with 4½ minutes to play.
The Cardinals, who have rallied from deficits of seven or more nine times dating to last season, made one final push. That's when Porter thwarted them late.
"I think we are going to get a lot better," Pitino said. "I do think that Georgetown was the better team tonight, but I think we will get a lot better."