Georgetown rode its three guards on a dominant second-half run to a 77-65 win over West Virginia in the opening round of the NIT Tuesday night. Before a raucous on-campus crowd, the Hoyas scored 47 points after the break, dictating tempo, energy, and emotion to win going away.
Each of the three Hoya guards took his turn leading Georgetown against West Virginia. Jabril Trawick (12 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals) attacked the rim early and often, slashing, spotting up, moving the ball, and crashing the glass to keep the Hoyas afloat through an otherwise listless first half. Markel Starks (14 points, 7 assists, 7 rebounds) was obviously not ready to have his Georgetown career end, as the senior knifed through the soft Mountaineer defense time and again to find his own offense and to create opportunity for one teammate after another.
But the headliner was sophomore D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who shook off a spotty first half to finish with 32 points and 10 rebounds. DSR took advantage of holes in the West Virginia defense, getting open looks in the lane, on the offensive glass, beyond the arc, and pretty much wherever he wanted as the game wore on.
Things weren't pretty early for the Hoyas on either end of the floor. On offense, Georgetown struggled to score beyond Trawick's early rim runs. Starks and Smith-Rivera both were trigger happy from deep, firing away early in the shot clock rather than testing the pliant West Virginia defense. The Hoyas also couldn't guard anyone, losing track of the Mountaineers in transition, on the perimeter, and in the lane. West Virginia guard Juwan Staten (23 points, 9 assists) proved a particular problem, jetting past the Hoya defense at will.
Still, Georgetown kept West Virginia within reach for two reasons. The Hoyas drew plenty of fouls on the Mountaineers, earning one trip the to the line after another for easy points. Just as importantly, Georgetown's bigs and other role players contributed in ways that they did not during the Hoyas' more embarrassing losses this year. Fully one-third of the Hoyas' 30 first-half points came from the trio of Aaron Bowen, Nate Lubick, and Moses Ayegba. Those 10 points (which, also counting Mikael Hopkins, ballooned to 19 over the whole game) were enough to open up the floor for the terrific Hoya guards.
After intermission, Georgetown came out attacking on both ends of the floor. On defense, the Hoyas locked in, holding the Mountaineers to just 37 percent shooting in the second half. Staten and the other Mountaineers found open looks harder to come by, and the Hoyas' jumped passing and driving lanes to generate turnovers. West Virginia's brick-laying and some careless ball-handling gave Georgetown plenty of opportunities to push the pace, and the Hoya guards took advantage. Smith-Rivera characteristically gathered points by the handful, hitting three second-half three-pointers while finding plenty of looks inside as well. He also pounded the glass, using his nose for the ball to ferret out one rebound after another.
For his part, Starks overcame shooting struggles by finding teammates in scoring opportunities. A long outlet to Trawick led to a transition Smith-Rivera lay-up. A seemingly fruitless pick-and-roll allowed Starks to dump the ball to Hopkins at the rim. And the two workhorse guards combined when Starks fed DSR for three-pointer that put the Hoyas up 13 with just 5 minutes to play, a lead that swelled as the Georgetown free-throw began.
The game rivaled perhaps only the Creighton win as a feel-good moment in an otherwise difficult season. The on-campus match-up was the first for all of the current Hoyas, and the 2,000-plus that packed McDonough made for a loud, energetic change of pace from the sometimes subdued Verizon. After two frustrating losses away from home, the uplifting win also was a fitting coda in what will almost certainly be Starks's last home game. The win also snapped a five-game West Virginia winning streak over Georgetown, ensuring that the senior Hoyas beat their old Big East foe in their last chance.
Georgetown will now hit the road to play Florida State next Monday. While the Hoyas have struggled away from home, they showed tonight that they still have a bit of pluck left.