Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
IIIrd time is a charm as Hoyas build, give away two double-digit leads before pulling away for good in surprising road win.
Just two days after their most dispiriting road performance of the season, your Georgetown Hoyas stormed into South Bend and emerged with a convincing, thrilling 63-47 win, blowing open a close game with an 18-0 second-half run that built their third double-digit lead of the game and silenced the Irish faithful. Otto Porter led a team effort with 19 points, 9 rebounds and 2 apiece of assists, steals, and blocks, while D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera sparked a decisive second-half run with 10 of his 14 points after intermission.
After two empty early possessions, the Hoyas led the entire way, making eight straight shots and building an early 13-point lead. As he did all game long, Porter led the way early, burying a pair of threes and another mid-range jumper. But the other Hoyas contributed as well, as Nate Lubick made a lay-up in traffic then a patented running hook, Jabril Trawick netted a three, and Smith-Rivera and The Beleaguered Mikael Hopkins each hit jumpers. Georgetown also benefited from equal parts solid interior defense and poor Notre Dame shooting, as the Irish scored just eight points over nearly ten minutes to open the game.
A stern talking-to from Mike Brey lit a fire under the Irish, who rattled off five straight and eventually closed the lead to just four points with just over five minutes to play. For the Hoyas, the problems largely were offensive: Notre Dame went zone and Georgetown struggled to adjust, aimlessly passing the ball around the perimeter and settling for contested jumpers.
But a game of runs continued apace, as the Hoyas cracked down on defense and scored the last nine points of the half. Markel Starks, Porter, and Smith-Rivera each found seams in the Irish zone. On the other end, Georgetown again protected the paint and the irish perimeter shots stopped falling, with Notre Dame making barely 30 percent of its first-half field goal tries.
No sooner had Nate Lubick's basket after the half swelled the lead to 15, than the pendulum once again swung the other way. The Hoyas' second double-digit lead faded during a five-minute scoreless stretch that allowed the Irish to close the gap to just three. A road win that looked within reach at the half looked increasingly unlikely. Georgetown had twice built sizable leads only to give them away. The home crowd was on its feet in an arena where Notre Dame had won 47 of its last 49 games. And the Hoyas were tasked with maintaining a perilous lead for twelve more minutes.
But as it had to close the first half, the Georgetown defense clamped down, holding the Irish scoreless for the next seven minutes. And the Hoya offense pulled away. A team that is increasingly becoming Porter and a supporting cast--one local scribe laid claim to Otto and the Mircales--the depth of that cast was revealed during the clinching 18-point run. Smith-Rivera missed a three, but the ball was tracked down by Moses Ayegba; after a ball reversal from Markel Starks, DSR got a retry from the same spot, canning a triple to push the lead to six. Those three Hoyas also contributed to the next basket, as Starks fed a cutting Smith-Rivera, who then convert under the basket as Ayegba cleared a path by bodying Cooley out of the way. DSR would hit another three to make it eight during the critical run, while Ayegba grabbed five of his ten rebounds during the same period.
While double-digit road victories over ranked foes are uncommon, they commonly result in plenty of praise to go around. Monday was no exception. Porter was typically brilliant, posting an efficient 7-of-10 from the field while exploiting a defensive mismatch against a pair of overwhelmed Notre Dame forwards. Lubick had eight points by making all four of his shots as well as three assists, despite battling foul trouble throughout. An energetic Trawick (redundant, I'll admit) hounded the Irish guards while posting a balanced seven points, six rebounds, and six assists. Starks didn't exactly bounce back from his South Florida debacle, but converted a couple of key baskets late in the first half and finished with a solid nine points, five rebounds, and four assists. Ayegba staked a claim to increased playing time, playing tough defense against Cooley and grabbing 10 rebounds, thereby doubling his career high. And, on a day on which the President urged unity and collective action, the Hoyas followed suit on the court, playing stout team defense while assisting on a stunning 19 of 24 baskets.
It's hard to overstate how critical this win was. The Hoyas had just lost a very winnable game in Tampa, and could ill afford to head into Saturday's match-up with No. 5 Louisville at two games under .500 in the conference. They desperately needed another road win, even if that needed to come in one of the least friendly arenas in the league. Wednesday's win was Georgetown's best of the season, coming on the road against a veteran, ranked team, unlike the talented but green UCLA bunch the Hoyas bested early in the year.
Georgetown's win is further evidence of a trend in their conference schedule so far: the team that most needs a win gets it. Four of the Hoyas' six Big East games involved one team that clearly needed a win more than its opponent. Against Pitt and South Florida, Georgetown faced teams that were not as bad as their records indicated, and lost (handily, to the Panthers) as a result. At St. John's and now Notre Dame, the Hoyas needed a win to avoid a hole from which they might not emerge, and won by 16 on the road. And the Hoyas aren't alone: several teams look like world-beaters one night and very beatable the next, leaving a jumble of eight teams claiming exactly three league losses through Monday's play.
What the Hoyas' confusing road trip means for the rest of the season is hard to say. Georgetown returns home for three straight, of which they'll need to win at least two to continue to harbor tournament dreams. Saturday against the Cardinals certainly is the least likely win of those three, but after tonight who can doubt that crazier things have happened?