Guardedly Optimistic: Georgetown Beats #10 VCU, 84-80

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Hoyas survive turnovers, fouls thanks to offensive output of big three.

Georgetown won the longest basketball game in recorded history Sunday, riding hot shooting from the field and nearly perfect aim from the free-throw stripe en route to an ugly 84-80 win over #10 VCU. The Hoyas won despite turning the ball over 26 times, falling victim to the Rams' "havoc" defense, and sending VCU to the line a mind-boggling 47 times. Still, Georgetown held on down the stretch, in the process salvaging a trip to Puerto Rico and exacting revenge over a VCU team that famously bounced them from the NCAA Tournament in 2011.

The story for Georgetown was guard play. Two of the three Hoya guards--Markel Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera--carried the Hoyas down the stretch, pouring in a combined 49 points. After a first half in which they each tried to do a bit too much, Starks and DSR found their strokes in the second half, scoring from all over the court. Smith-Rivera was a particular beast from deep, canning five of his six three-point attempts en route to a game-high 26 points, the third time in five games that he's eclipsed 25. Starks was the crafty veteran, changing up speeds, steps, and dribbles to find open looks after breaking VCU's press. I don't know how many miles Starks ran in the course of the Hoyas' epic win, but he's earned a post-game casual mojito. And both were money from the free-throw line, particularly late, when the two combined to hit 12 of Georgetown's 16 consecutive makes from the stripe. (Joshua Smith also deserves a nod here, though we'll get into that more, later.)

The remaining guard, Jabril Trawick, was saddled with early foul trouble and managed to score just 1 point before fouling out. Usually, such a quiet performance wouldn't be notable. But Sunday, Georgetown was facing VCU's vaunted full-court press. Substituting out Trawick meant bringing in Aaron Bowen, Reggie Cameron and, at one point, John Caprio. None of those three is the ball-handler Trawick is, and, while nearly every Hoya contributed to the team's 26 turnovers, the absence of Trawick was a huge contributing factor. Starks and Smith-Rivera, primarily responsible for the scoring, particularly late, also were trapped, pressured, and lured into 12 turnovers between them, often finding no easy release with Trawick on the bench. Many Hoya possessions ended before the ball even crossed half court, fueling easy transition looks for the Rams.

When Georgetown did get the ball over the timeline, the Hoyas found plenty of opportunity. For the day, Georgetown shot a cool 56 percent from the field. The perimeter looks were open, particularly for DSR, but there was much to be gained going to the hoop as well. The "havoc" defense, while capable of generating turnovers by the handful, often yields wide-open looks at the hoop and in the lane. And VCU's various post defenders, while long and athletic, were no match for the size of Smith, who bullied his way to 17 points on 4-of-6 shooting form the field and an eye-popping 9 of 10 from the line. There was very little reason to believe that Smith would light it up from the stripe today: he entered the game, his third in four days, having made just 50 percent of his free-throw attempts on the season, a number in line with his career numbers. But Smith showed off a number of new wrinkles to his game, whether it was converting foul shots, drawing fouls on a couple of dribble-drives to the basket, or occasionally playing energetic defense.

Despite the solid performances from these three Hoyas, there were many stretches were doom seemed imminent. While turnovers were Georgetown's poison throughout the day, early on, a slew of early fouls were nearly as toxic. VCU attempted 19 first-half free throws to just 3 by Georgetown; combined with 14 giveaways before intermission, the Hoyas seemed lucky to be down by just one heading into the half.

Against VCU, success always seems like a brief clotting in between the hemorrhaging of turnovers. Sunday, the stretches of miscues were plenty, whether it was a run of seven turnovers in eight possessions (including five straight turnovers at one point) that erased a six-point first-half lead, or a trio of particularly costly turnovers in the second half that turned a one-point Hoya lead into a seven-point deficit.

While the turnovers continued after the half, Georgetown largely eliminated the free-throw disparity, drawing 7 VCU fouls before the 17-minute mark. Just as crucially, the Hoyas converted the opportunities afforded by all those fouls, netting 32 of 37 shots from the charity stripe. That dead-eye shooting swelled the Hoya lead to eight in the waning minutes, and ensured that a last-ditch VCU run fell short.

So Georgetown ended a strange weekend that featured 4 or maybe 5 halves of well-played basketball, and one disastrous collapse to Northeastern. It's pretty hard to draw a line between that potentially damning loss (the Huskies lost by 9 to Charlotte on Friday), the next day's blowout of a hapless Kansas State team, and today's win over a perhaps overrated but nevertheless very good VCU squad. The core Hoya offensive trio of Starks, DSR, and Smith were as good as advertised, but contributions from the rest of the squad have been intermittent and unreliable. For that reason, depth remains a problem, particularly when one or more guards gets into foul trouble.

After a wearying two weeks including trips to South Korea and Puerto Rico, Georgetown has some time to work out the kinks. Six days remain before the Hoyas host Lipscomb, and Georgetown won't travel again for nearly four weeks. In the meantime, chalk today up as a very good win at the end of a down-and-up weekend. Hoya Saxa.

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