Needing a win to resuscitate its faint NCAA Tournament hopes, Georgetown came out on fire Tuesday night, leading #13 Creighton nearly from wire to wire en route to a 75-63 win. Markel Starks led a team effort notching a double-double and putting forth one of the most energetic and emotional Senior Night performances in memory.
After a forehead-slapping Ethan Wragge three-pointer opened the scoring for Creighton, Georgetown clamped down on defense. The Hoyas pressured the Bluejays at the three-point line, running the visitors off their favorite spots beyond the arc. Seven straight Creighton possessions came up empty, buying some time for a Hoya attack that took a while to get started.
Soon enough, Georgetown found its touch, especially from outside, where Starks, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, and Reggie Cameron hit first-half three-pointers and Jabril Trawick hit two. The Hoyas also found offense in transition, where they scored 11 open-court points before intermission. The peak was a spectacular sequence in which Aaron Bowen stole an entry pass from Creighton star Doug McDermott, flipped the ball to Markel Starks, who pushed the pace to find Trawick for a .gif-worthy alley-oop. Hot outside shooting and easy points on the run allowed Georgetown to take a 14-point lead into the break even as Creighton found its touch.
It was only a matter of time until the Bluejays fired back. Creighton has the nation's best offense, and McDermott is perhaps the country's best offensive player. The Bluejays shoot threes often and well, and so a turnaround can come quickly. After a first half in which McDermott could barely see between the sea of Hoya arms, assertive drives by the Bluejay guards created some openings for the Creighton star. McDermott forced the action inside, then stepped out for one three after another.
While McDermott was putting on a show on one end of the floor, the Hoya offense stalled. Creighton reached new levels of creativity in challenging anyone but Starks and Smith-River to score, dusting off the triangle-and-two zone last seen in my middle school CYO league. Unfortunately, it was somewhat effective, as the guards were briefly bottled up and the remaining Hoyas could not initiate any offense. The Bluejays whittled away at the Hoya lead, which shrunk to just six, the equivalent of just a couple of Creighton bombs.
But Starks wasn't going to let Creighton ruin his senior night. Down the stretch, he took over, abusing Gibbs on consecutive possessions first to draw a pair of free throws, which he made, and then to bury a mid-range jumper. Having drawn the full attention of the Creighton defense, Starks dished on the next possession, penetrating into the lane before dropping the ball off to Bowen for an open layup. While Gibbs hit a pair of late triples to keep things interesting, Georgetown buried four straight free throws to put the game away.
Starks was the individual headliner, finishing as one of four Hoyas in double figures with 17 points and handing out a career high 11 assists. The senior has put forth a remarkable senior campaign, tirelessly working amid roster upheaval, critical lineup deficiencies, and dispiriting losses. He has shouldered a huge share of the offensive burden while rarely resting during the long campaign. Once the win was in hand, Starks exited to a warm applause from the Verizon Center faithful, allowing himself an emotional moment on the bench as the final seconds ticked off.
Plenty of other Hoyas made notable contributions as well. The Hoya defense as a whole was terrific, holding a league-leading Creighton offense below 40 percent from the field and just 10 of 29 three-point attempts. As painful as the open bombs from McDermott and Gibbs were, Georgetown generally contested open perimeter looks and made things sticky in the paint.
Smith-Rivera led Georgetown with 18 points and also pounded the glass for a career-high 12 rebounds. Thirteen of those DSR points came in the first half, when he showed off his entire arsenal of offensive moves: a step in jumper, a deep three, a muscular drive to the basket, and even an improbable post up on the much larger Wragge. Smith-Rivera yielded much of the spotlight at the end to his elder teammate Starks, but his contributions were just as important.
Trawick continued his late-season renaissance, scoring 15 points while grabbing 7 rebounds. With Nate Lubick facing early foul trouble and Moses Ayegba ineffective against Creighton's sharp-shooting bigs, Georgetown went small for much of the game, leaving Trawick and Smith-Rivera to pick up the slack on the boards. Trawick has now scored in double figures in six straight games and seven total since his return from injury, a dramatic turnaround after eclipsing 10 points just twice in 14 games before breaking his jaw. Of course, Trawick's outside stroke has been the most notable improvement, as he has shot 44 percent from beyond the arc since returning from injury and has buried 2 triples in each of Georgetown's last three games.
Bowen (9 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals) and Mikael Hopkins (10 points, 5 rebounds, 5 blocks) also deserve accolades for their energetic defense and timely offense. Each took turns shadowing McDermott around the floor, harassing the Creighton star in the post and beyond the arc. And each found timely offense in the paint, finding holes in the Bluejay junk defense and on the offensive glass.
As inspiring as the win was, the Hoyas have work to do to make the NCAA Tournament. The next, but not necessarily the easiest, chance for Georgetown to crash the dance comes at Villanova Saturday. The #6 Wildcats will be playing for tournament seeding and, if they can't win at Xavier Thursday, the regular season conference title. For their part, Georgetown has won true road games only at Butler and DePaul, the dregs of the Big East. Still, Tuesday showed what the Hoyas are capable of, keeping our delusion alive for at least a few more days.