Georgetown's offense provided the margin its defense couldn't Tuesday night. The Hoyas shot 65 percent from the field after the half to slowly but surely pull away from the pesky Elon Phoenix, 85-76. Four Hoyas, including their big three, scored in double figures to fuel the Georgetown attack.
Coming into Tuesday, Georgetown's defense was rounding into shape. The Hoyas had submitted three straight strong defensive performances after some uneven defensive efforts to start the seaosn. Still, there was cause for concern: Georgetown was allowing a high number of three-point attempts while yielding a low percentage from deep. A high-volume, hot-shooting opponent could put Georgetown on its heels.
Elon was just that opponent, hoisting 17 first-half three-pointers and making 9. For the game, four different Phoenix players made at least a pair of triples, with Tanner Samson and Sebastian Koch making four apiece. After a quick 10-5 Hoya start, Elon's sharp shooting put the visitors ahead, with the Phoenix's lead swelling to six points during the first half.
Elon's advantage was abetted by temporary, and typical, Georgetown offensive stagnation against a familiar zone defense. Lacking one-man zone buster Otto Porter, this season's Hoyas have struggled to break opposing zones, most notably in the second half in the loss to Northeastern. Tuesday, Georgetown adjusted quickly enough, rotating through the high post to facilitate ball movement inside and outside, and from the strong to the weak side. Transition offense and opportunistic shooting from deep--a Mikael Hopkins jumper! an Aaron Bowen three!--got the Hoya offense back on track.
Still, Elon led by a point entering the half. The Phoenix's scorching long-distance shooting was the main reason, and it could have been worse, had Elon maintained that dead eye from the free-throw line, where the Phoenix shot just 2 of 8 before intermission. But the visitors' good fortune didn't last. Georgetown came out of the half with a pep in its step, notching three straight baskets. That was good enough to build a lead that the Hoyas would not relinquish, even if Elon's continued sharp shooting meant that Georgetown never felt entirely comfortable.
Georgetown's big three came in handy Tuesday night. After struggling to find his mark through the first eight games, Markel Starks hit four of five three pointers en route to a game-high 21 points. Long-distance shooting is a precious commodity on this team, and the Hoyas will continue to need Starks' bombs throughout the season. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera continued his big sophomore campaign, netting 19 points and nabbing 7 rebounds. And Josh Smith bullied home 18 points on an efficient 7 of 9 from the field, continuing to provide unstoppable post offense.
While the star trio's scoring was notable, ball movement was the story of the Georgetown offense, particularly against Elon's zone. Starks, DSR, Nate Lubick (10 points, 6 rebounds), and Jabril Trawick each notched four assists as Georgetown assisted on 20 of 28 made baskets. That unselfishness, increasingly the hallmark of this team, opened up plenty of opportunities inside, where Georgetown scored 38 points in the paint to Elon's 22. Starks's outside shooting and plenty of scoring inside added up to the fifth 80-point performance in nine games for these Hoyas.
The uneven, offense-first win over a talented, veteran Elon squad makes a confusing bookend with the grinding, narrow victory over Colgate ten days ago. Georgetown won both games, preserving its non-conference home winning streak, which now stands at 48 games. Tonight's win, over a veteran team that netted 13 three-pointers, should not be taken lightly. Still, the two wins underscored some question about this team's limitations on both ends of the floor.
The delusional view of the home stand is, to use JT3's pet phrase, the Hoyas found several different ways to skin a cat. All four games featured either hot shooting or lock-down defense, while two games featured both. While the Hoyas aren't precise from long range, their crisp passing, unselfish nature, and opportunistic shooting provide enough offense to get by. Of course, the cynical view is that a pair of single-digit victories over mid-majors may spell doom for Georgetown's ceiling for the rest of the season.
Georgetown stands at 7-2 with two games remaining before conference play begins. The first of those two comes Saturday, when the Kansas Jayhawks will host the Hoyas in Lawrence. That game, against a ranked opponent in a hostile arena, will test Georgetown in a way that this home stand has not. How the Hoyas respond in that difficult environment may offer a glimpse of Georgetown's fate in conference play.