Georgetown beat Marquette Wednesday night, but it didn't feel like a win, really. The Hoyas were inept offensively, making just one field goal in a fifteen-minute stretch in the second half, committing careless, sloppy turnovers, and generally having no idea how to attack the Golden Eagle zone. And yet even as an eleven-point Hoya lead withered away to just one, Georgetown kept itself afloat with trip after trip to the free-throw line and just enough defensive stops to stay ahead of the visitors. In the end, the Hoyas squeaked out a 65-59 win, the second victory in a two-game home stand.
Georgetown could have put this game away early but for two familiar shortcomings: perimeter defense early and half-court offense late. Even as Georgetown scored eight points on their first four possessions, the Hoyas' porous, confused defense yielded dribble drives, open three-pointers, and other scoring opportunities that even the middling Marquette offense could exploit. Georgetown's man-to-man defense, heavy on switches, has lead to rampant confusion throughout this season, as knock-down shooters have been left wide open and dangerous ball handlers have been welcomed into the lane. Wednesday was no more encouraging, as the Golden Eagles repeatedly found their way into the paint, where they shot 54 percent and scored fully 32 of their 59 points.
On offense, the early returns were encouraging, as the Hoyas attacked the aggressive Marquette zone. Georgetown smartly peppered the ball around the perimeter and into the lane, finding seams in the defense. The Hoyas also rightly assaulted the zone's weakness at protecting the glass, grabbing fully 45 percent of their own misses to generate plenty of second chances. Shortly after the half, Georgetown converted three of those offensive rebounds into six second-chance points, extending the Hoya lead to 11 with just under 15 minutes to play.
But then things went into a rut. Whether Georgetown became content with a double-digit lead or wore down under Marquette's defensive energy, the Hoya offense became alternately confused and lackadaisical. Instead of weaving into and out of the opposing zone, passes meandered back and forth on the same side of the floor, frequently falling into Marquette hands. Instead of posting up Joshua Smith and working the ball into the lane, the Hoyas settled for a series of perimeter jumpers that failed to connect. JT3 went with some confusing rotations, relying for far too long on the double-big Smith/Mikael Hopkins lineup that kills the spacing necessary to crack zone defenses.
Soon, Georgetown had a white-knuckler on its hands. With the Hoya lead at just one, Georgetown forced three straight turnovers and pounded the paint on offense, drawing four free throws (three made) and a successful Smith post-up. A Marquette flurry again reduced the margin to just a point, but a step-in D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera jumper pushed the lead to a three and, after a stop, Georgetown put the game away from the line.
The news wasn't all bad: a win is a win, particularly in conference play. After some early hiccups, Georgetown did a much better job of closing out on Marquette's perimeter shooters, particularly Matt Carlino. The Hoyas recognized their size advantage and exploited it, shooting 50 percent inside the arc, grabbing 14 offensive rebounds, and parading to the line for 28 free-throw attempts. And a Hoya squad that sometimes had struggled from the line was on point, making 82 percent of their free-throw attempts and putting away the game from the stripe.
One game after freshmen reserves starred, Wednesday's individual accolades went to the starters. Smith-Rivera led four Hoyas in double figures with 15 points, although that figure was padded by crunch-time free throws. Smith was a force down low when his teammates could get him the ball, scoring 12 points, grabbing 10 rebounds, 7 of them offensive. Just as importantly, Smith and fellow senior big Hopkins (8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks) avoided foul trouble for the first time in conference play. Jabril Trawick had a so-so game from the field but reversed his recent struggles at the line, hitting 8 of 9 free-throw attempts en route to 13 points.
The Hoyas will need to be more consistent on the road, where they head Saturday, at Providence. The Friars' oversized front line will present far different challenges than Marquette's small, scrappy rotation, but Georgetown will still need to refine its defensive rotations and find some consistent source of points in the half-court. The Hoyas held serve over the past week at home, but they don't appear to be improving game-to-game, particularly as the same issues crop up again and again. The road will be less forgiving of these weaknesses, and it remains to be seen whether Georgetown can steal a win or two there.