Road wins don't come easily in conference play, and Saturday was no exception, as Georgetown clawed and fought Rutgers for all 40 minutes, emerging with a narrow 69-63 victory. The win was the Hoyas' fifth straight, but was very much in doubt until the waning seconds. Four Hoyas scored in double figures, and Georgetown ultimately needed every one of those points.
Entering Saturday, Georgetown had won six of seven on a formula that largely consisted of exceptional three-point defense, stellar defensive rebounding, and even more efficient offensive production from Otto Porter and Nate Lubick. Many of those indicators weren't sustainable, and Rutgers either caused or benefited from defensive slippage by the Hoyas. The Scarlet Knights cracked the Hoya defense by making 8 of 14 three pointers and grabbing 14 offensive rebounds. Their mighty mite guards found holes in and beyond the Hoya zone (in the process calling into question why Georgetown was playing zone against a smaller team that likes to shoot from deep). The chief offender was Scarlet Knight guard Eli Carter, who decided to break out of a slump, dumping 14 first-half points including several deep threes on the Hoyas. In the second half, several Scarlet Knights assaulted the offensive glass, overpowering an undermanned Hoya front court.
On offense, some early bricks by Porter and foul trouble for multiple Hoyas made things more difficult. Lubick committed his second foul just six minutes into the game, sending him to the pine and leaving Georgetown without one of its primary offensive facilitators. Not having to worry about Lubick, the Rutgers defense honed in on Porter, as an extra defender limited his open looks. Foul trouble for Jabril Trawick and later Mikael Hopkins complicated things further.
Yet, the game never got away from Georgetown. Rutgers never led by more than three points, even in the Scarlet Knights' hot-shooting first half. The Hoyas stayed in the game offensively with guard play, as Markel Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera scored a dozen first-half points apiece, eventually finishing with 20 and 13, respectively. The 33 combined points was a season-high for the two guards. Starks was lethal from deep, making three triples, while DSR got his from all over the court, making a three-pointer, back-cutting for open lay-ups, and scoring off the bounce.
After intermission, Otto found some open looks, which he characteristically converted, scoring 15 of his 19 after the break, and Starks continued to shake loose near the rim. Georgetown also got plenty of help from an unlikely source, The Beleaguered Mikael Hopkins, who scored 12 points after the break en route to a career-high 14 that was rounded out by 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks. But Georgetown could no more sustain its leads than Rutgers could, and a see-saw battle ensued.
This was not a fun game to watch. "Regression to the mean" is a tidy term, evoking images of gently and dispassionately sloping lines on a graph. Saturday, as Georgetown struggled in areas in which it normally excels, the images in my living room more resembled a dire EKG, as my pulse spiked an my remote controls went airborne. Every Rutgers triple, every Scarlet Knight offensive rebound, every untimely whistle prevented the Hoyas from building any sustainable lead. The longer Rutgers stuck around, the more the team, its home crowd, and its manic coach gained energy. When Lubick fouled out with six minutes to play and Rutgers promptly took a one-point lead, it looked as though the pendulum may have swung for good against the Hoyas.
But then Porter took over, nailing a triple then converting a fast-break feed from Trawick to keep the Hoyas again. As often happens at the end of games, the opportunities became fewer and farther between for Rutgers, as the Hoyas allowed just a single point over three Rutgers possessions. Just as typically, the Hoyas failed to score in response, leaving Rutgers down by just a point with under two minutes remaining.
Porter still wasn't done. A timeout with just 1:28 remaining gave JTIII the opportunity to draw up a beautiful set. Out of the break, Porter posted up on the weak side, gaining position so that a quick ball reversal to Starks, and a feed by Starks to Porter, allowed him to make a strong move to the rim. The play harkened back to a similar Porter-Henry Sims exchange at the end of the N.C. State loss that ended last season. Perhaps learning his lesson from Sims's unsuccessful kick-out to him, Porter used his post position to his advantage, making the basket, drawing the foul, and burying the free throw, putting Georgetown up four. On the next possession, he made two more free throws to keep the game out of reach, and Hopkins iced it from the line.
While Saturday was the Hoyas' fifth straight win, no two in the streak have seemed the same. It began with the unexpected road upset, followed by the home statement win over a top-5 team; next was the business-like blowout of the cellar dweller and the rugged dispatching of a team looking for revenge. Today's win was the grinding road win over a hot, confident foe--no easy task, even against the most feeble opponent, as the Hoyas proved at South Florida.
It's not often that a team can commit more turnovers, lose the rebounding battle, make fewer three-pointers and free-throws, and still win. Yet that's what the Hoyas accomplished Saturday, winning on a day in which nothing was in their favor. Well, one thing was in their favor: shooting, especially inside the arc, where an undersized Rutgers team shot a miserable 36 percent and an opportunistic Hoya bunch shot a scorching 62 percent.
Georgetown has little time to savor this win. On Monday, Marquette visits the Phone Booth. The Hoyas once again will put their winning streak on the line, and will try to exact some revenge for last month's loss in Milwaukee. There's even an outside chance that a share of first place in the conference will hang in the balance. But for the bus ride home at least, Georgetown can savor a difficult win in unlikely circumstances. Hoya Saxa.