Georgetown left nothing to chance Saturday, suffocating St. John's on defense and pushing transition opportunities, opening up a 23-point first-half leading and thoroughly dominating a 67-51 win. Just a few days after enduring a humiliating home loss to a visitor in desperate need of a conference win, the Hoyas this time were the rude and hungry guest, leaving little doubt in the game's result after the opening minutes. In so doing, Georgetown punished a disorganized opponent while, just maybe, finding a blueprint for later success.
The Hoyas traveled to New York short-handed, leaving behind second-leading scorer and rebounder Greg Whittington, who was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules (and for an unspecified length of time). But the other two leading scorers more than made up the difference, with Otto Porter pouring in 19 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, and Markel Starks netting 17 points, including a pair of first-half triples. Nate Lubick also had one of his better games in his Big East career, putting up a stat-stuffing line of 11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 blocks.
From the tip, Georgetown was the aggressor, beginning with an emphatic opening dunk by Jabril Trawick, who started in place of Whittington. The Hoyas yielded nothing, allowing St. John's just two half-court baskets in the opening eight minutes (to go with four points in transition). Above all, the Hoyas protected the paint, inviting ill-advised outside jumpers and sloppy entry passes. The passes often ended up in Hoya hands, as did the errant long shots.
Once they got the ball, the Hoyas moved the ball up the court quickly to find open shooters. In the early minutes, Nate Lubick was open for a mid-range jumper, Otto Porter got a pair of early buckets, and Markel Starks was left alone in the corner for a three. That triple made the lead 22-8 with just nine minutes elapsed, with eight of nine Hoya baskets assisted to that point. After two consecutive games in which Georgetown scored four points in the opening eight minutes, the early offensive explosion was welcome.
Critical to that increased output was the pace. In all, Georgetown scored nearly half its first-half points in transition. Notably, most of those opportunities were not true fast-break points, but merely situations in which Georgetown didn't allow the St. John's defense time to set up. Pushing the ball up the floor allowed looks more open and nearer to the hoop than the Hoyas have seen in recent half-court sets. (Also of interest was that the Hoyas created these opportunities without relying on the press.)
A St. John's timeout did little, as the Red Storm managed just two points over a nearly nine-minute span. The Hoyas eventually stretched the lead to 33-10, with Porter and Starks particularly taking the offensive reins. While some late-half sloppiness narrowed the margin a bit, St. John's never got closer than the final margin of 16 points again. The lead at one point stretched to 26 before JTIII got some extended run to the reserves, and the Red Storm only pulled closer to three three-pointers in the last two-plus minutes, the only triples the Red Storm made all day.
The blowout and Whittington's absence gave JTIII the opportunity to give extended run to reserves, including D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Aaron Bowen, and Moses Ayegba, all of whom had solid outings. The freshman scored 8 despite not shooting accurately while also dishing out 4 assists, grabbing an astounding 10 rebounds, and playing much improved defense. In all, Smith-Rivera looked his best since his scorching debut against Duquesne, and seemed particularly at ease in the open court. Bowen, whom JTIII seems to elevated ahead of freshman Stephen Domingo in the rotation, was generally good, with an over-optimistic, blocked dunk attempt more than overcome by a smooth three-pointer and transition dunk. And Ayegba, like Bowen, tallied a career-high in minutes while making a few nice offensive contributions and clogging the lane on defense.
The large lead, the Hoyas' desperation, and the Red Storm's frustration also led to plenty of chippy moments later in the game. Most of these dust-ups centered around the teams' respective firebrands--for Georgetown Lubick and Trawick, and for St. John's, guard D'Angelo Harrison, whom the Hoyas held to just seven points, less than one-third his season average. Harrison was barely worse than his teammates, as the Red Storm put up an eye-gouging 36 percent from the field, 19 percent from three, and 38 percent from the line.
The win was a must for Georgetown to avoid falling to 0-3 in Big East play. No better place to get that win, then, than Madison Square Garden, where the Hoyas previously demolished Texas in non-conference play, and which boasts an ample dimmer switch. Even better that the win came on the road, both because they're hard to come by in conference play and to make up for Tuesday's home loss to Pitt.
Also necessary, for a Georgetown team that hadn't eclipsed 50 in its first two conference games, was the offensive production. Whether the Hoyas can replicate the model that produced early offense against St. John's is another issue. The Red Storm were a youthful, undisciplined bunch, many of whom got back on defense slowly or not at all when Georgetown ratcheted up the pace. The league's better defenses won't be quite so lax. Still, the aggression produced an immediate and obvious offensive uptick, and so is worth pursuing again Wednesday against Providence, another talented and green squad. Also, Georgetown usually gets more than a combined five points from Trawick (who played very good defense), Mikael Hopkins, and (the admittedly suspended) Whittington.
For now, the Hoyas can feel good about themselves on a ride back from New York, their third this year. Whether the fourth trip--in March for the Big East Tournament to end all of them--will be end so happily remains to be seen. But Saturday gave us hope that such lofty dreams aren't completely delusional. Hoya Saxa.