For the third time this season, the Georgetown Hoyas played their hearts out down the stretch, patching together lineups when their trio of bigs fouled out. For the first time, Georgetown came up short, missing two last-second opportunities as yet another game at Marquette slipped away. The Hoyas' 75-73 loss effectively bursts their bubble, leaving them two games under .500 in conference play with just two games left, both against the conference leaders.
Georgetown came out of the gate scorching at Marquette. Each of the Hoya guards was stroking the ball, as Jabril Trawick buried a pair of three-pointers and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks torched the Golden Eagle guards on the perimeter and going to the hoop. Against a large Marquette front line, Georgetown couldn't hope for too much post offense, making Trawick's contributions all the more valuable. The junior matched his career high with 16 points, his fifth straight double-figure output. Even with fading hopes of NCAA Tournament play, Trawick's late-season surge has redeemed an alternately disappointing and injury-riddled earlier campaign.
As sweet as the Hoya guards' shooting was, two familiar defensive flaws haunted Georgetown early and often. First, the Hoyas were far too willing to concede open three-pointers, even to Marquette guard Jake Thomas, who hit a game-tying triple in the teams' first match-up and buried six three-pointers Thursday. Second, and more damning, the Georgetown bigs could not stop fouling. The hacks started early, as Nate Lubick carelessly collided with Thomas on the perimeter, and continued apace as various Golden Eagles, but mostly Davante Gardner, bullied their way to the rim to draw whistle after whistle.
Even so, the Hoya guards' scoring, plus a couple of baskets apiece from Nate Lubick and Mikael Hopkins, was enough to sustain a 40-37 halftime lead. But the bottom fell out after intermission, as Marquette scored the first eight points of the second half and never trailed again. The reasons were the same: Thomas's uncontested long-range shots and the Hoyas unabated foul trouble. Moses Ayegba fouled out shortly after half, having produced virtually nothing beyond five fouls and some incredulous stares. Lubick and Hopkins followed in course, having contributed a bit more offensively but nevertheless failing to stay in the game.
Bradley Hayes was the Hoya center, and Georgetown was relying on small lineups that featured Aaron Bowen and Reggie Cameron at power forward. When Trawick drew a confusing technical foul that may or may not have been a make-up call for an equally confusing T assessed to Thomas, the Hoyas seemed to be falling apart. The Marquette lead ballooned to seven on a few occasions, as Gardner had his way with the unseasoned Hayes.
Still, the Hoyas kept chipping away, as both teams drew fouls at a nauseating rate and Georgetown actually converted its free throws. Predictably, Starks and Smith-Rivera were the two instigators, drawing contact time after time to earn, as it were, trips to the line. It wasn't a pretty display, but it was fairly effective, as Georgetown eventually narrowed the gap to just one in the final minute. A defensive stop gave the Hoyas the ball and a chance at the lead with 30 seconds left, but Georgetown used its last timeout and 20 precious seconds to produce nothing better than an errant Starks runner. Marquette split a pair of free throws, giving DSR a chance to tie or go for the win as time expired. But, like too many last-second tries at Marquette since Jon Wallace's 2008 miracle--Austin Freeman's missed lay-up in 2010, Greg Whittington's missed free-throw last season--DSR's lay-up came achingly close before rimming out, and Hayes's timing wasn't quite right to tip the ball back in.
The loss was a microcosm of the Hoyas' season. Over-reliance on guard scoring produced predictable droughts, most notably the five-plus scoreless minutes to open the second half. Outside the guard trio, there was almost no offense after the break. A thin front line plus intractable foul trouble created crisis-level rotations. Three veteran front court players didn't understand game situations well enough to avoid fouling out of a game in which fouls were at a premium. A short bench forced players that weren't ready, and may never be, into roles they couldn't fill.
Still, Georgetown continued to fight admirably, and almost won. Starks, DSR, and Trawick gave their best, and played excellently, even if one more make here or there might have swung the difference. Hayes committed a ton of errors but also grabbed a couple of rebounds, made his two free throws, and even played adept straight-up defense on Gardner in the game's final minute.
The Hoyas close their regular season with a pair of top-10 opponents, first at home against Creighton, then a roadie at Villanova. Georgetown will be a significant underdog in both contests. Yet, after the odds the Hoyas have faced this season, no one will doubt that they'll fight to the end.