Georgetown used a fast start and a powerful closing kick to overcome a nearly fatal lull and beat Providence 83-71 Monday night. The Hoyas' fourth straight win returned them to .500 in Big East play, where they'll need to stay as they hit the road.
Georgetown ran up to a fast start, building a 27-15 first-half lead on the strength of plenty of hot shooting. As with any run, there were some surprises in Georgetown's early surge: a long Nate Lubick jumper here, an Aaron Bowen triple there. There also was the reemergence of D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who dribbled, juked, and bodied his way to nine points during the early run. Most important was a DSR three ball, his first in 17 attempts over more than 4 games. Whether Smith-Rivera's drought from deep was physical, psychological, or both, the malady passed Monday night. A mid-range DSR jumper put the Hoyas up 12, and a rout seemed to be in the making.
But then the Bryce Cotton show started. Perhaps the only Big East guard to bear a greater minutes and scoring burden than Hoya workhorse Markel Starks, Cotton started gunning and didn't stop until at least the half. Held scoreless through 13-plus minutes, Cotton sandwiched a pair of three balls around three free throws earned on an over-aggressive Jabril Trawick closeout. In two minutes, Cotton turned a blowout into a one-possession game. Soon, Cotton buried two more threes and ten more points in all to put Providence ahead by four entering the break. The last of these shots, a double-clutch three-pointer as time expired, portended disaster.
But things didn't quite play out that way. Reggie Cameron hit two long jumpers, the second from three, to put Georgetown back in the game, and a nip-and-tuck affair ensued. Even as Providence built a seven-point lead, Georgetown chipped away, as Markel Starks hit a 3, DSR muscled his way to the rim for a basket, and Georgetown continued to attack the basket, earning extra trips to the line. Eventually, Georgetown pulled ahead, and back-to-back threes by Smith-Rivera and Jabril Trawick put the game out of reach.
Georgetown's offensive formula has been the same throughtout its four-game winning streak: attack the basket for high-percentage looks at the rim or, failing that, hopefully a foul call. Monday, the Hoyas shot a healthy 58 percent from inside the arc and earned 30 free-throw attempts, of which they made 24. Trying to outpace a red-hot Cotton, Georgetown also found some outside shooting, making 7 three-pointers, albeit on 22 tries. The Hoyas could withstand a bit of hoisting bricks from long range thanks to careful ball protection, which yielded just five Georgetown turnovers.
Smith-Rivera led Georgetown with 22 points and 5 assists but was by no means the only Hoya contributor. Starks battled apparent fatigue, a knee-on-knee collision, and claustrophobic spacing en route to 14 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds. Trawick continued to redeem a junior season that seemed lost just two weeks ago, scoring 12 points on the strength of the clutch three-pointer and nine trips to the free-throw line, which resulted in seven makes. Monday was 'Bril's fourth straight game scoring 8 or more points, a crucial injection of offense after missing several games with a broken jaw. And Reggie Cameron poured in 11 points, reaching double figures for the third time in his young career thanks to some late free throws. Lubick and Mikael Hopkins scored 8 points apiece while cleaning up the glass to the tune of 17 combined rebounds.
The win wasn't always pretty. Georgetown yielded far too much to Cotton, particularly on the perimeter, and continued to struggle against mobile big men, letting Tyler Harris and Kadeem Batts each reach double figures. But the Hoyas never quit, continuing to battle their way through a season that demands effort. The Hoyas held the Friars to just 40 percent inside the arc, continuing to stifle opponents from two-point range. Georgetown particularly clamped down on Providence down the stretch, when the visitors managed just one basket over five-plus minute as Georgetown surged ahead.
This victory was a must-have for Georgetown's flickering NCAA Tournament hopes. Most fundamentally, the Hoyas were facing a Friar team that had the double advantage of being ahead of the Hoyas on the bubble and having beaten them in Providence. But the win also was needed in the big picture. Georgetown now sits at .500 in conference play and at minimum needs to maintain that mark to have a chance at the dance. The Hoyas have six games remaining, but only 2 of those are at home and both contests in the Phone Booth are against teams (Creighton and Xavier) in the Big East's top tier. In short, every game will involve either stiff competition, unfriendly confines, or both. As a result, simply maintaining an even win-loss record over the closing kick will be a tough task; making up ground would have been nearly impossible.
The next test is a surging St. John's team that will enter Sunday's game even with or just behind your Hoyas. The two teams' battle for bubble pecking order, plus the Hoyas' six straight wins over the Red Storm, will supply extra drama to an always contentious affair. Fortunately, the next six days will allow Georgetown to rest, heal, and prepare, savoring a difficult win and eying the road ahead.