With barely a minute to play in Wednesday's game against Kansas, Georgetown junior guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera lined up a three-pointer, rose, and fired. The Hoyas had been up and down all game long, a mix of turnovers, energetic but then inattentive defense, errant shooting, and just enough offense, especially in the post, to keep things close. Despite all their struggles, the Hoyas were down just a point as DSR's shot headed toward the hoop. Smith-Rivera had struggled throughout the night, but he remains the Hoyas' best scorer, and his shot was straight, and true.
Or nearly so. The ball hit front rim, then back, softly, but just hard enough to rattle out. Kansas grabbed the defensive rebound, and hit its free throws to ice the game, 75-70.
For much of the first half, it didn't appear that the result would be that close. After both teams struggled to score in the game's opening minutes, Georgetown suddenly could not stop Kansas. The Jayhawks scored on five straight possessions, hitting from the perimeter and around the basket. Eventually, the Kansas advantage swelled to 13 on the strength of five Jayhawk triples. Thanks to a handful of early turnovers, the Hoyas could not keep pace.
Slowly, Georgetown clawed back into the game. As the Jayhawks' outside shooting momentarily went cold, the Hoyas pounded the paint. Joshua Smith beasted in the post while Smith-Rivera and L.J. Peak attacked the rim. A knifing Peak finish with two minutes remaining before the break gave the Hoyas their first lead since the game's opening basket, and they headed into the half down just two.
Georgetown kept things close for much of the second half, turning to Smith, then Peak, then back again. The senior big man and freshman wing scored the Hoyas' first 15 points after intermission, culminating with a Peak transition and-one that put Georgetown up three with just under 13 minutes to play.
Smith played as hard as he has as a Hoya, posting and re-posting, bodying Jayhawk defenders for position in the post and on the offensive glass. The results weren't always pretty--he turned the ball over 5 times--but his 20 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks reflect his vital contribution.
After quiet games against high-profile opponents in Atlantis, Peak seized the spotlight Wednesday night, giving Georgetown much-needed scoring juice in transition and beyond the arc, including an uncalled banked three-pointer in the first half.
But, in a bookend of their early struggles, the Hoyas were the cause of their undoing down the stretch, yielding open perimeter looks and trips to the free-throw line on one defensive trip after another. Somehow, Kansas scored 24 points over 11 second-half minutes on nothing other than free throws and three-pointers.
First, the perimeter defense. Jayhawk sharpshooter Brannen Greene somehow was uncovered time and again, hitting consecutive three-pointers to put the visitors ahead by four. After Georgetown had evened the score twice more, Greene buried yet another triple that put Kansas up five with under three to play. Greene is just the latest opponent (Wisconsin's Bronson Koenig and Butler's Kellen Dunham were previous examples) to punish Georgetown's apparent inability to lock down a perimeter shooter, especially on the weak side.
Greene's many open looks can be attributed to good Jayhawk ball movement, but also to poor Georgetown coaching. Aaron Bowen can lock down a wing when asked, and did so on Greene in the last couple of minutes. But Bowen played just 3 minutes for the game, while Jabril Trawick slogged his way through 27 high-energy but middling minutes. Likewise, Kansas guards Frank Mason (14 points) caused the Hoya guards fits, but Tre Campbell was only let loose for a single first-half minute. JT3's lineup choices have been curious at various times this year, never more so than Wednesday night, when reserve defenders were glued to the pine among other sins.
Georgetown also paved Kansas' path to the free-throw line, allowing the Jayhawks to reach the stripe on four consecutive critical second-half possessions and yielding 32 free-throw attempts for the game. The Hoyas' inability to guard the perimeter without fouling and their tendency to reach, bump, and grab, sometimes 94 feet from the basket, gave too many easy points to the Jayhawks.
Those defensive mistakes might have been enough to overcome on a better shooting night. But after a scorching rout of Towson on Saturday, the Hoyas hit just 5 of 16 three-point attempts against Kansas. Five of those misses were attributable to Smith-Rivera, who made just 3 of his 15 shots for the evening, none from beyond the arc.
Given all of these struggles, it was mildly surprising that DSR's jumper would have given the Hoyas the lead in the game's final minute. There were reasons, of course. Georgetown's interior defense, fouls aside (a big asterisk, there), was very good. Kansas hardly scored any two-point baskets, hitting just 10 of 36 shots from inside the arc, and forked the ball over 17 times. On offense, Smith-Rivera found ways to contribute even when his shot wasn't falling, grabbing 10 rebounds, and handing out 6 assists. Georgetown also got all-court contributions from freshmen forwards Paul White (10 points, 4 rebounds) and Isaac Copeland (6 points, 2 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks) and senior Mikael Hopkins, who didn't score much but tallied 9 rebounds (4 offensive), 4 assists, 2 steals, 4 blocks, and some impressive effort corralling Jayhawk star Perry Ellis.
This was a maddening, thrilling, and ultimately frustrating loss. There was plenty of good to take from it, but a third loss in four close early-season games is discouraging, as is continued veteran struggles, continued mental errors, and continued perimeter defensive lapses. Still, the basics for success throughout the season are there. This is a young team with plenty of talent that, save for a sluggish first half against Butler, plays hard. Those qualities will be easier to appreciate when they translate to wins. Until then, Hoya Saxa.