Well that was fun! Georgetown upset an even more undermanned #7 Michigan State squad 64-60 Saturday in Madison Square Garden. Despite their five-game losing streak entering the game, these Hoyas rode a team effort throughout, using a combination of defense, rebounding, and manufactured baskets to keep the Spartans just out of reach down the stretch.
Markel Starks led three Hoyas with in double figures with 16 points and 4 assists, while D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera overcame another miserable shooting game from the field (just 2 of 13 FG) by burying a series of clutch free throws to finish with 12 points to go with 8 rebounds and 3 steals. DSR's work on the boards complemented heavy work by Georgetown's big men: Mikael Hopkins notched 10 points and 4 blocks, while Nate Lubick scored 8 points, gathered 6 rebounds, and swatted a pair of Spartan shots.
Saturday's win came over a top-10 team, though Michigan State has been skating by short-handed of late. The Spartans were without big man Adreian Payne, their second-leading scorer and rebounder, and forward Branden Dawson, their fourth-leading scorer and leading rebounder. Payne missed his seventh straight game and Dawson his third, a stretch during which Michigan State somehow had lost just one entering Saturday.
But Georgetown found plenty of opportunities inside Saturday. The Hoyas held their own on the glass and owned the paint on offense, converting a cool 54 percent from two points against a Spartan team that normally limits its opponents to just 42 percent inside the arc. Pounding the ball inside also yielded 24 Georgetown free throws, of which the Hoyas made 18.
Some of those inside points were the usual: Starks knifed his way to mid-range jumpers and the rim, and Hopkins proved willing and, in this game, able to bully his way from the low block to the rim. Some were less common, such as Lubick posting up to good effect and Jabril Trawick overcoming a shaky and injury-interrupted junior campaign for 8 points, all going to the basket. The last of 'Bril's points were the biggest of the day, as he skied for a late tip-in to preserve a dwindling Hoya lead, then leaked out after a last-minute Spartan turnover for an emphatic, punctuating dunk.
I think it was Tolstoy who wrote that all good basketball teams are alike but every bad basketball team is bad in its own way. Some talented teams underachieve, but others are ravaged by injury, ineligibility, bad coaching, or just bad luck. Some bad teams are young and will improve over time, while others are good one year but then suffer from year-after hangovers.
Georgetown rode a five-game losing streak into this game, prompting comparisons to the two other least successful seasons of the JT3 era. But there are important differences that particularly distinguish this bunch from the disastrous '09 team. Particularly without Smith, this Georgetown team is undermanned but, in my estimation at least, not underachieving. Bad coaching against Marquette aside, Georgetown's main problems have been a lack of personnel. The Hoyas are not deep, particularly in the back-court, and do not enjoy a surplus of offensive threats, especially up front. But this team's recent losing streak is not because the Hoyas aren't trying, or visibly dislike one another. Because they keep working, this team is much easier to watch than the losing effort in 2009, when a more talented but less cohesive group memorably collapsed.
Of course, that effort also is easier to watch when Georgetown wins, as it did Saturday. So can the Hoyas keep winning, or was Saturday just a one-game blip in the midst of a prolonged slide? We won't know until the games are played but the opportunities for a couple of wins are there. Monday brings a trip to Chicago to face a DePaul team that's still bad but not so bad as in year's past, then Georgetown returns home to host a still-struggling Butler team next weekend.
But today's a good day to savor an impressive win by a team that continues grinding. Hoya Saxa.