For the second straight day, Georgetown played a ranked opponent to the wire in the Battle 4 Atlantis, whittling tense final minutes down to a decisive final possession. This time, the Hoyas came up just short, falling 68-65 to #2 Wisconsin and missing an opportunity to tie the game as time expired. Still, Georgetown outplayed expectations, leading for much of the second half and playing perhaps its best offense of the season to keep pace with the efficient Badger attack throughout.
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera was the offensive story for the Hoyas, pouring in 29 points on the strength of 5 three-pointers and a series of drives into the lane for crafty finishes around the basket. After three-plus games of so-so scoring outputs, DSR has erupted in the Bahamas, particularly torching the Badgers Thursday through deft reading of a two-man game with Joshua Smith. The big man was the only other Hoya in double figures, posing up Wisconsin star Frank Kaminsky to the tune of 10 points.
On defense, Georgetown was at its best when Smith sat, going small with Mikael Hopkins at center and Aaron Bowen and Paul White manning the forward positions. Much like the Hoyas' small-ball containment of Creighton's five-out attack last season, Georgetown best limited the efficient Wisconsin attack with mobility and athleticism.
For a while, it seemed that the Hoyas might pull off the upset. With Smith largely on the pine for the middle of the second half, Georgetown limited Wisconsin to just two points over four-plus minutes, forcing a slew of turnovers and missed Badger jumpers. Meanwhile, the Hoya attack scored on three straight possessions and eight of ten, pounding the ball into the paint, either by entry passes to Smith or by dribble drives by DSR, Jabril Trawick, and Aaron Bowen. Eventually, the Hoya lead swelled to nine with eleven-plus minutes to play.
But the Badger offense, the nation's second most-efficient, could only be held down for so long. With preseason All-American Frank Kaminsky struggling through an off shooting day (largely Hoya induced), Wisconsin found the open man through crisp ball and player movement. Sophomore guard Bronson Koenig canned a three and knifed in for a layup and fifth-year senior Duje Dukan scored all eight of his points in succession to put the Badgers ahead for good. At the same time, the Hoyas could not buy a bucket, missing lay-ups, free-throws, and just about everything else.
When the dust settled, the Hoyas had managed just six points in eight-plus minutes. With just under two minutes to play, Wisconsin had built a seemingly insurmountable seven-point lead.
But Georgetown came alive with its back against the wall, just as it had in Wednesday's dramatic win over Florida. DSR canned a triple, then after a Kaminisky miss, Paul White (7 points) was fouled on a long ball and made all three free-throws to pull the Hoyas within one with just under a minute to play. The Hoyas forced a Wisconsin miss, but energetic Badger forward Nigel Hayes tipped the rebound in to put the lead back to three.
Given a final chance to tie the game, Smith-Rivera and Smith reverted to their two-man game, seeking to use a Smith pick to free DSR up for the equalizing triple. The guard found daylight with the clock dwindling, but his heave was off. The play choice, in the wake of a JT3 timeout, was curious, particularly in that it drew a second defender (Smith's) to DSR without the threat of another three-point shooter to space the floor. Regardless, the attempt failed, and the Hoyas lost.
Despite the disappointment, Georgetown proved for the second straight night that it belongs with the nation's elite. Wisconsin is a polished, experienced bunch that rarely beats itself. Georgetown visibly made the Badgers uncomfortable for long stretches Thursday, bullying the ball into the paint on offense and using rangy athleticism on defense to stifle Wisconsin shooters. Smith-Rivera seems to have found his stroke, although most of us would have preferred a more diverse offensive attack, particularly with the game on the line in the final possession.
This game echoed previous narrow misses against top flight opponents in early-season tournaments. Three seasons ago, a revamped Hoya roster featuring the stellar 2011 recruiting class came up just short in an opening-round game in Maui against a Kansas squad that ended its season in the national championship game. The following year, Georgetown took a top-ranked Indiana team to overtime before falling. Both losses came early in seasons that saw the Hoyas grow and evolve, finishing the year far better than they began.
Georgetown can scarcely afford such big-picture thoughts now, as the Hoyas return Friday for their third game in under 48 hours. Their opponent in the Atlantis third-place game will be Butler, ensuring that the two new-ish conference mates meet at least three times this year. While Georgetown is no longer an undefeated juggernaut, the Hoyas can salvage a successful tournament run with a win tomorrow. Until then, Hoya Saxa.