Zoned out: Georgetown collapses, loses to Northeastern 63-56

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Hoyas squander double-digit lead, come up empty offensively in opening-round loss.

Well, that was terrible. Your mighty Georgetown Hoyas turned in an ugly opening-round performance in Puerto Rico, laying brick after long-range brick en route to an embarrassing 63-56 loss to Northeastern. The loss revealed flaws both big and small in this year's Hoya squad.

For most of the first half, the Hoyas were humming along. Georgetown moved the ball reasonably well, fed Joshua Smith inside, hit a couple of outside shots, and generally looked to be in control despite early foul trouble. Eight Hoyas scored before intermission, including sights rare (a Stephen Domingo three) and more common (Smith bullying his post defender). While Markel Starks battled early foul trouble and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera struggled with his shot, Georgetown still put up 36 points before the break. Aaron Bowen did many good things, converting two buckets at the rim, dishing out four first-half assists (nearly balanced by three turnovers), and generally capitalizing on the offensive glass. Smith scored seven points before the half, in the process luring Northeastern post Scott Eatherton into foul trouble. Georgetown rode into the half with a comfortable 11-point lead.

Out of the break, the advantage swelled to 14 as Smith-Rivera hit a jumper and Smith made a pair of free-throws. But then things went dry, very dry, as Georgetown went scoreless for more than seven minutes. To some degree, the Hoyas became complacent, hoist up a series of errant jumpers over the top of the Husky zone. But even the routine stuff didn't come easy. Starks surprisingly missed a pair of free-throws, as did, less surprisingly, Smith, with one of the big fella's misses failing to even reach the rim. On defense, Eatherton continued to take advantage of Smith's immobility, eventually pouring in an efficient 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. By the time the Hoyas snapped back into it, a 14-0 Northeastern run had tied the game.

Still, 10 minutes remained, and it briefly looked like the pendulum might swing the Hoyas' way once more. Starks and Smith-Rivera, quiet for much of the game, came alive in the waning minutes, combining to score 12 of Georgetown's last 14 points. But that wasn't enough to keep up with a Husky offense that had found its groove, s Northeastern scored on five straight possessions down the stretch to put the game out of reach.

As with any loss, there is plenty of blame to go around. First, Georgetown's scoring triumvirate of Starks, DSR, and Smith made just 9 of 31 shots. The guards were errant from outside the lane, combining to hit just 2 of 12 three-point attempts. Unlike the Hoyas' long-range struggles in the season opener against Oregon, the issue against Northeastern was not who was taking the shots. Starks and Smith-Rivera are, with freshman Reggie Cameron, among the better long-distance options Georgetown has. Rather, Georgetown couldn't get easy looks for its top gunners, as the Hoyas struggled to crack Northeastern's zone looks.

The Husky zone likewise stifled Smith, who started off well but then faded badly. Eight days after Georgetown's home-opening win over Wright State, Smith should have been fully rested, but his second half line--0-2 from the field, 2-4 from the line--reveals his limitations, particularly against zone defenses. Smith's second-half and free-throw line struggles were not unique on a team that collectively shot just 6 of 26 after intermission and made just 61 percent of its free-throws for the game.

Starks's first-half foul trouble also once again exposed Georgetown's lack of perimeter depth. Dating back to last season, Markel now has been in first-half foul trouble in four of the last five games. Not coincidentally, Georgetown has lost the four in which Starks has been whistled early and often. Without him in the lineup, the Hoyas' playmaking and long-distance shooting dry up and, this season in particular, the wings that tend to fill in for him are a significant step down in production.

Northeastern's defensive play was disciplined and effective, but it won't be the last zone Georgetown faces this year (or perhaps even this week). Thursday revealed that zone-breaking without a lanky forward like Otto Porter (or, for that matter, Greg Whittington) is no easy task. This year's offense, which relies on a pair of guards and a very big man, may be particularly ill-suited to that sort of dissection. But the Hoyas will need to find a solution to avoid facing one zone-induced dry spell after another.

Georgetown has little time to turn things around, as the Hoyas face Kansas State tomorrow in Puerto Rico.

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