Georgetown closed out its non-conference slate in style Saturday, coming back from a double-digit deficit to beat Indiana in overtime, 91-87. In a passionate, back-and-forth battle, the Hoyas were led by their upperclassmen, as junior D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera scored a game-high 29 points, senior wing Aaron Bowen poured in a career-high 22 points, and Joshua Smith and Jabril Trawick fueled a key second-half run.
This game was up-and-down for the outset, as if the teams decided to put on a show befitting the energized crowd who brought holiday cheer to Madison Square Garden. Early on, the game wasn't pretty for the Hoyas, as careless turnovers and ill-considered quick triggers kept Georgetown from building a lead even as Indiana dealt with similar struggles. Soon, the Hoosiers got going, as Indiana guards James Blackmon and Yogi Ferrell started hitting from outside. Shortly after Smith picked up his third foul, Indiana launched a pre-intermission blitz to push its halftime lead to 10.
Despite the double-digit hole, things never really seemed out of hand for the Hoyas. For one, Indiana wasn't stopping Georgetown so much as the Hoyas were stopping themselves. Missed lay-ups and free-throws were commonplace, as Georgetown missed one uncontested bunny after another. What's more, the two main hubs of the Georgetown offense, Smith-Rivera on the perimeter and Smith down low, combined for just seven first-half points, a number depressed by the big man's foul trouble. Finally, Indiana scorched the nets in the first half, particularly from three, where the Hoosiers made 8 of 14 attempts. Even in a match-up between an Indiana team that shoots the three often and well and a Hoya squad that has struggled to defend the perimeter, a second-half regression seemed in order.
And so it was, on both ends of the floor. DSR came out of the break on fire, hitting three three-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half. On defense, Georgetown switched to a 2-3 zone that closed off the Hoosier driving lanes and, in turn, the open spots on the perimeter.
Even so, Indiana's lead stood at the same 10-point mark six minutes into the half when Smith reentered the game. The big man immediately made his presence known, posting up on back-to-back possessions and scoring on both. When another Smith post-up finally drew an Indiana double-team, Bowen drained an open corner three to cut the margin to just three points. Georgetown had hit its offensive stride, scoring 15 points in a key five-minute stretch during a second half in which the Hoyas scored 47 points and shot 57 percent from the field.
So what was the cause of the Hoya resurgence? Part of it was attributable to Smith's reentry into the game, particularly against an undersized Hoosier squad. While Indiana's small lineup enables a fun, five-out offense that can produce an intoxicating series of dribble-drive actions leading to open three-pointers, the same fivesome attempted to defend Smith with overmatched forwards like poor, too-small-by-135-pounds Emmitt Holt, who was the victim of the big fella's first two post-ups. Smith abuses solitary defenders, particularly smaller ones, making him a gravitational force who pulls one or two additional defenders into the post, opening up Hoyas around the perimeter. In one particularly impressive possession during the closing minutes of regulation Saturday, Smith tipped in a third effort, the result of a deep post-up followed by two consecutive offensive rebounds.
Georgetown also was able to come back thanks to basketball sometimes being a make-or-miss game; Hoya layups that rolled out before the half rolled in afterwards, including a Trawick up-and-under that brought the Hoyas within 1 with just under 11 minutes to play. By the same token, Indiana went cold, especially from deep, where the Hoosiers connected on just 5 of 17 three-point attempts after the break.
Speaking of Trawick, a final reason for Georgetown's run was emotion. Both fanbases turned out to MSG on Saturday, and both teams were in it to win it. When Jabril missed a potential posterizing dunk just before the Hoya run, onetime laptop-theft-abetter and sometime ESPN commentator Jim Calhoun made a prescient comment along the lines that the two points didn't matter as much as the potentially inspirational effect of Trawick's effort.
That effort was on display all afternoon, as the senior guard turned in a complete 12-point, 7-rebound, 2-assist game. The early season hasn't always been kind to Trawick, who was struggled at times to find his rhythm offensively and to avoid foul trouble on both ends of the floor. But he played solidly Saturday, adroitly and aggressively attacking the rim on offense while shoring up the glass on defense.
Trawick wasn't the only veteran to come up big for the Hoyas on Saturday, as the Hoya upperclassmen combined for 82 of Georgetown's 91 points. Bowen played his best game as a Hoya, getting his typical run-outs in the open court but also hitting from the perimeter, crashing the offensive glass, and knifing without the ball on back-door cuts. After years spent toiling on the Georgetown bench, Bowen is enjoying his most successful stretch as a Hoya, already matching his career number of double-digit scoring efforts (four) in just eleven games so far this year. And while Smith made Indiana's defense collapse on itself, DSR hit his stride from the perimeter, scoring 24 points after the break and keying the Hoya attack in the extra session.
Those extra five minutes shouldn't have been necessary, but seemed fitting after a frenetic first 40 minutes. Having given the lead back to Indiana on a pair of three-pointers, Georgetown retook it once again with an eight-point run that put the Hoyas back up five with under two minutes to play. Again, the four veterans were key, each scoring during the short run. But--what else--a pair of Indiana triples brought the Hoosiers back to a tie, forcing overtime.
Georgetown put the game out of reach early in the extra session, as Smith converted an easy post-up, DSR hit a three, and the big fella tipped in a Smith-Rivera miss, making the lead 7. Still, Indiana hung around, down by just three with under a minute to play, when DSR rightly took matters into his own hands, draining the shot clock, driving right at Ferrell, and then draining a short jumper to put the game out of reach.
The win advanced the Hoyas' record to 8-3 and an even 3-3 against top-100 teams. All of those higher-profile games have been decided in the final minute, preparing Georgetown well for a Big East schedule that promises few easy outs. Conference play begins Wednesday, when the Hoyas will ring out 2014 with a tricky late-night affair at Xavier.
For now, though, we can savor a fun game played by a fun and good Georgetown team. The Hoyas are far from perfect (see: 14 of 26 free throws) but any fan would have gladly accepted such thrilling if erratic play during last season's death march. Georgetown has veteran leadership that once again proved itself Saturday, and talented youth that will improve as the season progresses. Hoya Saxa.