Georgetown overcame stagnant early offense to pull past the DePaul Blue Demons, 61-54, in both teams' Big East opener on New Year's Eve. Markel Starks led all scorers with 21 points, pacing an otherwise mediocre attack.
Things were not pretty early on for Georgetown. After a couple of inside baskets by Joshua Smith, a two-three DePaul zone defense stifled the Hoya offense. Georgetown's ineffectiveness against the zone showed itself in familiar signs: aimless jumpers, careless turnovers, and a general lack of ball movement that helped to keep the Hoyas scoreless for two stretches spanning eleven minutes in all. While Starks sparked the attack with a drive into the lane and a deep jumper, Georgetown soon went dry again. Live-ball turnovers caused by sloppy ball-handling and careless passes resulted in easy transition opportunities for DePaul. The Blue Demons rattled off 12 straight points, eventually building an eight-point lead that quieted the already sparse Hoya crowd.
The nadir having been reached, the Hoyas quickly turned things around, penetrating into the lane on offense and pressing the Blue Demons full court on defense to create easy scoring opportunities. A pair of Starks free throws earned by an aggressive drive were followed by a Jabril Trawick steal out of the press, resulting in a lay-in. Two more Starks foul shots led to still more press, which caused a turnover that yielded a D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera three-pointer. A textbook, gorgeous Aaron Bowen reverse lay-up off a Nate Lubick feed from the high post capped an 11-0 run that put Georgetown ahead for good.
DePaul didn't go away, narrowing the margin to two points on several occasions. But Georgetown cobbled together just enough offense to stay ahead. Often, the Hoyas' production came from unlikely sources: a Bowen turnaround three to end the first half, a Moses Ayegba spin and finish in the post, a Bowen runner. These found-money points replaced opportunities left on the floor, as Georgetown shot just 15 of 27 from the line (a number that doesn't take into account several missed front ends of one-and-ones) and 4 of 12 from deep. The only reliable scoring option was Starks, who time and again drove to the hoop, finishing around the rim and earning trips to the line.
Still, DePaul struggled offensively as badly as Georgetown, committing 18 turnovers, missing fully half of their 26 free throws, and shooting just 32.7 percent from the field. Were it not for 12 offensive rebounds, the Blue Demons would have finished even worse.
There were a few notable individual performances. Starks had the most notable individual performance, generating offensive opportunities where none otherwise existed. Bowen played one of his best games as a Hoya, scoring eight points but also grabbing six rebounds and snagging three steals. After years fluctuating in and out of the rotation, Bowen is showing signs of consistent contributions: over the past four games, he has averaged better than seven points and a steal and half per game. Ayegba also earned accolades for his second-half defense, blocking three shots. While Moses is a mobile, athletic alternative to Smith inside, he contributes to the Hoyas' general foul problems, fouling at the highest rate and, against DePaul, fouling out in just 17 minutes. Trawick was at his active, energetic best, scoring eight points and grabbing four rebounds.
There were some more mixed performances as well. Smith-Rivera struggled with his shot and in controlling the ball, abetting several Blue Demon fast breaks with long, errant jumpers or sloppy turnovers that led to easy run-outs. He atoned for those sins with continued effort, grabbing a game-high eight rebounds. Lubick remains a non-entity, scoring-wise, but corralled seven rebounds and dished out a team-high three assists. After a pair of early baskets, Smith was alternately ineffective and absent, riding the pine while Ayegba played much of the second half.
So is a win a win, or is this inconsistent performance a sign of things to come? At this early stage in conference play, it's hard to say. There are troubling trends emerging for the Hoyas: porous defensive rebounding, disastrous fouling trends, and occasionally limited offensive options, particularly when one or more of Starks, Smith-Rivera, and Smith are struggling. Still, the ensemble contributions from Bowen, Trawick, Lubick, and others is encouraging, and Starks was the consistent veteran leader the team needed. Saturday, when St. John's visits, will provide a stiffer test, and another opportunity for Georgetown to hold its home court.