Freshman Isaac Copeland nailed a three-pointer from the corner with 5.4 seconds remaining Saturday to lift Georgetown to a thrilling 61-59 victory over visiting Butler. Copeland's dagger completed his best half as a Hoya and capped a hard-fought, veteran-led win in which the Hoyas clawed back from a double-digit deficit.
That deficit was dug early and deep as Georgetown went nearly nine first-half minutes without a field goal. With big man Joshua Smith playing reduced minutes thanks to early foul trouble and flu-like symptoms, the Hoyas had few options for interior offense, instead settling for jumpers that weren't falling. Meanwhile, Butler had no trouble getting to the hoop, as Bulldog wings Roosevelt Jones (28 points) and Kellen Dunham (13 points) generated offense off the dribble at will. Eventually, the visiting Bulldogs mounted a 12-point lead, much as they had when these two teams met for the first time, in the Bahamas.
But just before the half, Georgetown found some semblance of an offense thanks to a concerted effort to attack the basket. Aaron Bowen slashed to the basket and missed, but Mikael Hopkins tipped the ball in, then D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (14 points, 3 assists, 3 steals) buried a late-clock three before getting into the lane to feed Hopkins for a dunk that pulled Georgetown within four entering the break.
After intermission, the Hoyas rattled off a 17-4 run with the same paint-centric mentality. Jabril Trawick rattled off his six straight on a layup, a mid-post jumper, and a pair of foul shots earned on yet another drive. Next it was Copeland's turn to string together a run, as he hit a baby hook in the lane, a quick pull-up from the elbow, and then a three from the wing that put Georgetown ahead by six.
That lead would not last, as Butler fought back behind Jones' monster performance. The Hoyas seemed not to notice that Jones went right nearly every time he touched the ball, often undeterred by a Georgetown defender. To Jones's credit, he made a series of high-difficulty runners, floaters, and other shots through traffic that kept the Bulldogs afloat. When a DSR jumper put Georgetown ahead by one with 36 seconds to play, Jones responded with a runner that swung the lead back the other way with just 12 ticks remaining.
That set the stage for the winning score when, out of a Butler timeout, Trawick drove down the left side of the floor, which was cleared out except for Copeland in the corner. As that help defender shaded toward the lane, Trawick kicked to Copeland, who showed shades of Hollis Thompson as he icily buried the three.
That wasn't the end, and Jones got one more chance to drive right, all the way down the court. But DSR, of all culprits, rose up and blocked the Butler star's shot as time expired.
While Copeland's last-second three grabbed the headline, seniors Jabril Trawick and Mikael Hopkins did much of the dirty work to bring about Georgetown's comeback. After an uneven start to the season, Trawick (10 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds) now has scored in double figures in four of five games. Just as importantly on Saturday, Trawick set up his teammates, cutting into the middle of the zone went Butler went that way, and penetrating from the perimeter when the Bulldogs stayed in man coverage. His classmate turned in a critical performance as well. One week after being the scapegoat for an overtime loss at Providence, Hopkins (8 points, 8 rebounds, 3 blocks) was essential at both ends of the floor. He played stout defense, patrolled the boards, avoided foul trouble, and, after a slow start, eked out just enough offense to keep Georgetown going.
This win was not without its blemishes. The Hoyas continued their search for a viable half-court offense and in particular continued to struggle with perimeter shooting. For much of the non-conference slate, Georgetown papered over this weakness by pushing the ball in transition and pounding the offensive glass. Butler snuffed out both of those offensive alternatives, getting back quickly on defense and limiting the Hoyas' second chances. Whether Trawick's dribble-drives can continue to expose a packed-in defense remains to be seen.
On defense, the Hoya perimeter continued to be porous, allowing Dunham and then Jones to get to the hoop time after time. In addition to the fact that Georgetown never shaded those Bulldogs away from their favored hand (Jones, right; Dunham, left), the Hoya wings simply could not stay in front of their Butler counterparts. On some possessions, Georgetown defenders closed out too hard, exposing themselves to a blow-by, while on others, they steered the Bulldog ball-handler toward help that wasn't there.
Perhaps the most confounding part of Georgetown's perimeter defense is its sloppy and random switching. One Hoya defending Jones or Dunham, presented with a pick or even just a bit of traffic, would hand the ball-handler off to another Georgetown defender. Sometimes the switch was seamless, but often it produced enough momentary confusion for the penetrating Bulldog to get to the hoop. Haphazard and lazy switching has been a season-long issue, and needs to be fixed by drilling firm, predictable rules so that Georgetown's defenders move in sync.
Still, a win is a win, and this one should not be discounted. Georgetown beat an upper-tier Big East foe that tends not to beat itself, had beaten the Hoyas less than two months ago, and had built a sizable and potentially dispiriting first-half advantage. Butler is not scared of the road or close games, as the Bulldogs have won nail-biters at St. John's and Seton Hall already this year.
The win moves Georgetown more firmly into second place in the Big East in advance of Monday's showdown with league-leader Villanova. There's precious little from Saturday that would indicate that the Hoyas will beat the visiting Wildcats, but the scintillating win offers just enough hope that Georgetown could emerge from that showdown in first place.