Georgetown completed a grueling opening week of the season Sunday with a heartbreaking two-point loss to #5 Duke, 86-84, under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden in the final of the 2K Classic. Four Hoyas scored in double figures, led by Isaac Copeland's 21 points, but it wasn't enough to match even hotter shooting from Duke's Grayson Allen. A desperate Hoya comeback fueled by a pair of Copeland triples came up just short, as did the sophomore forward's last-second heave for the win.
After a narrow loss at Maryland and a convincing win against Wisconsin, Georgetown came out of the gates looking confident and battle-tested. The Hoyas contained the Blue Devils early on, helping aggressively into the lane while keeping Duke in check on the perimeter. On offense, Georgetown worked the ball inside, finding easy looks in the paint and drawing plenty of early fouls on Duke. Copeland was particularly useful, hitting from mid-range, at the basket, and from beyond the arc. Georgetown found seams in a flimsy 2-3 Duke zone for open jumpers and shots at the rim. The reserves even got into the action, as sophomore forward Trey Mourning hit a put-back and a smooth mid-range jumper, and freshman wing Kaleb Johnson made a lay-up and a pair of threes, the second of which beat the halftime buzzer.
Before the break, the Hoyas scored 47 points, a season high for a half. That gaudy number was powered by a scorching 67 percent effective field goal percentage, headlined by 11 of made 15 field goals from inside the arc. While Copeland's 15 first-half points led the charge, everyone pitched in, as Georgetown found the open shooter, and that shooter converted.
Despite the hot shooting, Georgetown led by just 5, largely thanks to the shooting of Duke, especially Allen. And that shooting quickly reversed the tide, the Blue Devils exploded out of intermission on a 21-7 run. A surge like that happens on both ends of the floor, but the problem wasn't really Georgetown's offense, which managed those 7 points across 8 minutes but missed also yielded a number of open shots that simply rimmed out. Duke's shift to a 1-3-1 zone caused some momentary confusion for the Hoyas, but the Blue Devils' shooting was the real story. Duke scored 17 points on its first 6 possessions after the half, for a white-hot 2.67 points per possession. By the time the Hoyas had time to check for blood on the side of their mouth, their lead had turned into a 9-point deficit.
And yet, the Hoyas didn't go away. Instead, they began attacking along the back line of the Duke defense. First, Reggie Cameron zipped a diagonal pass that set up an open layup by Johnson. Then, freshman Jessie Govan went to work, finishing a broken play with a dunk and then taking a feed from a driving Cameron to hit a short jumper. On defense, Georgetown counterintuitively switched from man-to-man to a stretchy 2-3 zone that marked perimeter shooters rather than packing the paint. Suddenly, the Blue Devil shooters found Hoya hands in their faces, and the Duke offense managed just 5 points across 9-plus minutes. A game that looked to be getting away from Georgetown instead had a margin of just 4 points.
Then came a bit of controversy. LJ Peak drove the lane past Allen, gathering himself for a lay-up. Allen fouled Peak with his body, but then also took his hand to Peak's lower back, shoving him as the Hoya guard elevated. Peak tumbled, slamming his head against the basket support. Allen was initially whistled, rightly, for a flagrant foul. However, after some reflection, the referees reversed that decision, reducing Allen's penalty to a common foul. Confusingly, Peak was not given two free-throws, even though the foul, flagrant or common, was obviously committed while Peak was shooting.
The reversal of the call was bad. Allen clearly shoved Peak, maliciously or not. Peak could have sold the call and the resulting collision with the stanchion and, had he done so, the flagrant clearly would have stood.
Even so, the Hoyas kept chipping away at the deficit. A Cameron triple and a Johnson layup, sandwiched between four empty Duke possessions, made the difference just one point. Another Duke explosion, capped by a seemingly back-breaking triple by Allen, boosted the margin to 8 with under 3 to play. The Hoyas kept coming, but Duke was making its free throws and Georgetown couldn't generate offense from beyond the arc.
Then Copeland, scoreless since a dominating first half, teed off again. First, he buried a corner three that made it a one-possession game. After two more Duke freebies, Ike again shook free from deep, burying another triple that brought Georgetown within two. When Blue Devil guard Derryck Thornton missed two free throws with just 5 seconds remaining, Georgetown had a chance to tie or win. Copeland grabbed the rebound, raced up the court, and elevated from beyond the NBA three-point arc on the left wing. But he didn't have time to gather himself, and his final heave came up just short.
Aside from Dick Vitale's insufferable ramblings (with the very capable Seth Greenberg inexcusably relegated to sideline reporter!), this was game was well-played and a ton of fun to watch. Apart from a disastrous few minutes after the break, Georgetown played really well. The Hoyas adjusted to Duke's changing defensive schemes, taking what the Blue Devils gave them inside and out. Through four games, Georgetown appears to have plenty of offensive talent. The Hoyas have scored even though Tre Campbell and Paul White, two capable bucket-getters, have logged a combined three halves, as Campbell is suffering from an undisclosed injury and White has yet to play thanks to a lingering hip issue. Georgetown's defense has been less even, and Sunday wasn't able to stop Allen, who put up a jaw-dropping 32 points on 5-of-6 shooting from 3 and a perfect 9-of-9 from the free-throw line.
It's hard to feel good about being 1-3, but Georgetown has a lot of positives to take from its first nine days of action. First, that dispiriting record does not show the quality of the Hoyas' competition or the fire with which they have competed. One sleep-walking loss to Radford aside, the Hoyas have fought hard and met or exceeded expectations in three pressure-packed, high-profile match-ups against quality opponents, two of which are ranked in the top five nationally. They have kept pace offensively with two of the better scoring attacks in the land. Georgetown has shown impressive depth, despite missing two of their top eight players. The younger Hoyas have looked equal to the task when called upon. Georgetown has been punched in the mouth and has punched back. In short, there's far more reason to think that Georgetown will be quite good this season than that the Hoyas will play like they did against Radford.
After a breakneck opening 9 days, the Hoyas have a more casual pace over the next two weeks. Only match-ups with Bryant and Maryland-Eastern Shore dot the schedule before a looming showdown with Syracuse on December 5. The Hoyas come back from New York with lots of work ahead, but plenty of reasons for optimism.