Georgetown almost bounced back from a disastrous season opener, taking #3 Maryland wire-to-wire in College Park before losing 75-71. While the loss didn't quite make up for a shocking and dispiriting loss Saturday, it did offer hope for a string of big early season games to come. The nip-and-tuck game also marked the dramatic renewal of a local rivalry that lay dormant for too long.
The Hoyas set the tone from the tip that tonight would be different, scoring the game's first nine points and playing with evident passion that was lacking just three days earlier. Georgetown clearly had learned its lesson from the Radford debacle. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, silent for the first half on Saturday, squared up confidently for a triple to open the game's scoring. The Hoyas attacked the rim on offense and pounded the glass on both ends of the floor, working their way to an early lead.
Maryland made its run, holding Georgetown scoreless for more than six minutes. But the Hoyas bounced back from the perimeter. A pair of Marcus Derrickson 3s each followed by an LJ Peak jumpers put Georgetown up 7 late in the first half. Derrickson impressed after a quiet debut, notching 13 points, mostly from beyond the arc, while also grabbing six rebounds, two offensive, and aggressively mixing it up under the rim. Even so, Georgetown couldn't keep a leg up for long. A late Maryland run tied the game heading into the half, and a Terrapin onslaught appeared inevitable after the break.
Except, the Hoyas kept hanging around. Senior big man Bradley Hayes continued his transformation into an offense-and-rebounding force. Rutherford showed off an impressive range of baby hooks, rim dives, drop steps, and other post moves, keeping the offense afloat when Smith-Rivera rode the pine with foul trouble. For the second straight game, Hayes led the Hoyas in scoring, tallying 16 points to go with 8 rebounds. Invocations of Senior Year Henry Sims are based more on chronology than basketball--Hayes has been effective around the rim and in the low post but neither the passer nor, more importantly, the defender that Sims was. Defense is still a huge area of improvement for BJ, who still plods, leans, reaches, and finds himself off balance whenever he's asked to move laterally, whether defending a pick-and-roll or a face-up post. Still, the offensive evolution has been as impressive as it has been necessary.
Also showing up big in the middle of the second half was Isaac Copeland, who played far better after a shaky season opener. Copeland's 13 points came on a variety of looks, from the perimeter, at the rim, on a rim-rattling put-back dunk, but it was the rest of his game that stood out. Ike set up Hayes time and again, firing passes to the big man in the post and on the slip en route to a team-high 5 assists. Copeland also pounded the boards more than in game one, maximizing his rebounding advantage as a small forward while Derrickson cleaned the glass at the four. When a long Copeland two put Georgetown up seven with under six to play, an upset seemed within reach.
And then the defense collapsed. Fouling was a game-long problem: Maryland reached the double bonus in both halves and grave foul trouble afflicted both DSR and Hayes. Many of the whistles were just dumb, as Georgetown players reached or lunged when out of position. Smith-Rivera was benched for much of the second half with foul trouble, creating a near crisis on offense. Eventually, all of the hacking led to the Terps taking 20 more free throws than the Hoyas, with Maryland star guard Melo Trimble earning many of those trips to the line after abusing Georgetown in the pick-and-roll. Sensing an opportunity, Maryland went small, putting mobile big man Robert Carter at center and Jake Layman at power forward, spacing out Georgetown's defense past its breaking point. That arrangement enabled the Terps to score 21 points on the game's last 9 possessions which is, to employ a statistical term, bad. Georgetown kept pace down much of the back stretch, trading baskets with Maryland as the game reached a fever pitch. But eventually the Terrapins' firepower and the Hoyas' foul trouble were too much.
There was a lot of good to be taken from this game. Georgetown took a top-five team wire-to-wire on the road despite missing its probable sixth man, Paul White, who missed his second straight game with a hip issue, and, for the second half, their lone reserve guard, Tre Campbell, who didn't play after the break for an undisclosed reason. The Hoyas' core group looks solid, with the starting five each scoring in double figures. Derrickson looks like a real power on the boards and beyond the arc. Hayes officially is not a fluke and now makes real post moves against real post defenders. Copeland and Peak both played with a sense of urgency and responsibility that was utterly lacking on Saturday. And despite battling foul trouble, DSR was DSR, finishing with a solid line of 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Radford, while still embarrassing, looks more like a fluke than a harbinger.
And yet there's so much room for improvement. The fouling is still a severe problem, and needs to be fixed. More generally, defense is a problem, as Hayes and Jessie Govan both struggle to defend pick and rolls, and the rest of the roster lacks above-average defenders beyond Peak. Depth also has been an issue, as players that look more like deep reserves are seeing rotation-level minutes. Most of the lack of depth can be chalked up to health, and White and Campbell need to get right. Georgetown has a guard shortage as is, and without its playmaking forward and speedy guard, the Hoya offense needs to rely on just one playmaker when Smith-Rivera or Peak sits.
Beyond Georgetown's performance, Tuesday was a terrific spectacle for college basketball. While several teams showcased themselves as way stations to the NBA in a sterile arena in Chicago, Georgetown-Maryland was an on-campus, manic environment. Of course, it never feels good to hear a bunch of Twerps cheer, but the noise, passion, and intimacy of a partisan crowd was a reminder of why we watch college basketball.
So, can Georgetown carry forward this performance to some early season success? We'll see on Friday, when the Hoyas trip to New York to face Wisconsin and then either Duke or VCU. Regardless, despite the frustrating ending, Tuesday was a step in the right direction.