Odds finally caught up with your Georgetown Hoyas Wednesday night in Philadelphia. A team that had been defensively stout and offensively efficient during its 11-game winning streak suddenly was neither, as the Hoyas gave the ball away on offense, gave up too many easy trips to the line and easy looks from the field en route to a 67-57 loss to Villanova.
We can spend a lot of time dwelling on this loss, or just shrug our shoulders and agree that this was bound to happen at least once in the past 12 games. Given the goodwill earned over the winning streak, and the (almost literal) storm clouds that hovered over this game from the start, most of us will choose the latter route.
But, man, was this game hard to watch. Lots of mistakes and lots of free-throws didn't make for much rhythm. First, Georgetown gave the ball away time and again against a sticky Villanova defense, tallying 22 turnovers in all. Blame could be spread evenly, as each of the six regulars committed at least two turnovers. The giveaways were particularly bad inside, where Wildcats JayVaughn Pinkston and Mouphtaou Yarou combined for nine steals. Those miscues fueled the Wildcat offense as, by my count, resulted in at least 20 Villanova points.
The other eyesore, also predictable, was Villanova's parade to the free-throw line. While the Wildcats rely on getting to the stripe to fuel their offense, the Hoyas couldn't seem to avoid the whistle, sending their opponents to the stripe for 42 free throws, 30 made. As a result, Georgetown trailed after a promising opening spurt, falling behind eight minutes into the game and never leading again. There were rays of hope, where the Hoyas closed to a bucket or two, but another Georgetown mistake or easy Villanova trip to the line was always just around the corner.
These two problems, considerable though they were, might have been overcome had the Hoyas' defense held up from the field. Normally one of the stingiest field goal defenses in the country, Georgetown suddenly became quite generous, yielding 47 percent of Villanova's shots from the field and 50 percent from deep. These numbers were helped by easy transition opportunities, and by the occasional opponents' hot night, which a defense can only do so much to contain.
Even with all of those things going wrong, the Hoyas repeatedly had opportunities late to climb back into the game. But while the breaks allowed an improbable Georgetown comeback last week at Connecticut, they broke in the opposite direction this time. One late possession, probably the last gasp, proved especially frustrating. Markel Starks missed a runner which was salvaged by a Jabril Trawick offensive rebound, only for hope to peter out as Otto Porter missed an ensuing three pointer and Nate Lubick couldn't handle the offensive rebounds.
Even the stars of this game had a mixed night. Otto Porter tallied 17 points, 5 assists, and 4 rebounds, but shot just 6 of 16 shots, while D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera continued his steady growth with 14 points but made a costly turnover late. Markel Starks had his moments, scoring 12 points, though his 5 turnovers were at times maddening. Also error-prone was Nate Lubick, who pounded the boards for 9 rebounds but gave the ball away 4 times.
Mostly, though, this game underscored how fragile Georgetown's winning formula is. A very good defense cannot prevent every opposing hot streak, and even superhumans like Otto can't make every shot. When he doesn't do so, the other scoring options sometimes are too few to compensate. It's unclear whether an already thin Hoya bunch needed to be reminded of the tenuousness of its winning streak to motivate it greater glory from here on out. But it's fair to assume that, heading into a monumental stretch of games, the kick in the pants probably didn't hurt.
Before moving on to those upcoming contests, though, let's pause to bask in the fading glow of that win streak. What began so humbly after a loss at South Florida continued, game after incremental game, week after ascending week. The Hoyas felled top-ten foes, dispatched also-rans, and climbed the conference ladder for eleven consecutive games. Their feat was unmatched in this conference in the last six years and is unlikely to be rivaled again soon. The heroes varied, from Otto to Markel to Otto to DSR to Nate to Otto again, but the real highlight was the collective: the core of the team hardened, became stronger, and continued forward.
Now, just a few days remain before the eagerly anticipated rematch with Syracuse. We've seen enough so far to know two things: that Georgetown can win on Saturday; and that it likely won't be easy. Until then, Hoya Saxa.