For 34 minutes Saturday, things went swimmingly for Georgetown against UNC-Wilmington. On offense, the Hoyas crisply moved the ball to stay ahead of a swarming Seahawk press. Open Georgetown shooters buried everything in sight. On defense, Georgetown extended its own press and suffocated UNCW in the half court. Marcus Derrickson and D'Vauntes Smith Rivera took turns burying triples, the last of which, by DSR, but the Hoyas up by a cool 25 points. The shots were falling, the vibes were good, and the rout was on.
But, as it turned out, the bottom was about to fall out. The Seahawks proceeded to rattle off a 23-4 run over barely 4 minutes of game time, turning a runaway victory into a nail-biter. Georgetown got lazy and unassertive on defense, sloppy with its ball-handling, and lackadaisical with its ball movement. UNC-Wilmington hit a few baskets, which allowed the Seahawks to set up their full-court press, which led to Hoya turnovers, four of which came on the game's final eight non-fouling possessions. In a whistle-happy game, Georgetown racked up plenty of fouls, sending UNC-Wilmington to the line down the stretch. Those freebies allowed the Seahawks to set up their defense again, wash, rinse, repeat. In short, Saturday's ending resembled late-game struggles the Hoyas have endured several times already this season.
Ultimately, today was not a repeat of the Radford disaster. The Hoyas held on to win, 87-82, thanks to an emphatic two-handed dunk by LJ Peak and some icing free-throws. Even with the Georgetown victory, the sudden, dominating Seahawk run was a dispiriting punctuation on what should have been an easy win.
Let's pause to take a deep breath, stretch a bit, and briefly acknowledge that Georgetown played really, really well for almost the entire game. UNC-Wilmington is a tricky opponent. The Seawhawks defend full court, trap, overplay their assignments, jump passing lanes, and generally wreak havoc defensively. They come in waves, as 10 players average double-digit minutes. Coach Kevin Keats has his guys playing fast and hard, and the Seahwaks had routed each of their (inferior) previous opponents by 19 or more points. They're not Brown, or UMES, or even Radford. UNCW has a statistical rating that would put it in the bottom tier in the Big East, but not among weaker teams in the country.
So, this game posed some potential problems for Georgetown. JT3's team is turnover-prone, as it has been nearly every season under his regime. The Hoyas' effort has come and gone, often within the same half. When Georgetown failed to score for a few sloppy opening minutes, the Seahawks looked like they might be able to dictate the pace and style of play.
Those problems then lay dormant for most of the rest of the game. The Hoyas largely held their own against a Seahawk defense that boasts one of the best turnover margins in college basketball. After surviving the first line of the UNCW press, Georgetown found plenty of open looks, especially along the three-point arc, where four different Hoyas connected from deep.
Georgetown hit a high point offensively after the half, when one made triple after another opened up easy opportunities in the paint. UNCW's aggressive defense opened up lanes for back-cutting Hoyas and the fouls mounted against the Seahwaks, who sent Georgetown to the line for 39 free throws. The Hoyas scored on 6 of 7 possessions, pushing the lead seemingly beyond reach.
Two particular stars stood out offensively for the Hoyas. Smith-Rivera scored a game-high 29 points from everywhere, getting to the basket at will, burying threes, and hitting threes. And Derrickson buried five three-pointers, tallying all of his career-high 15 points from beyond the arc.
All of that good news only served to make the game's ending much more frustrating. Several times already this season, Georgetown has struggled sustain effort late in games, has fumbled the ball against full-court presses, and has fueled opposing runs with a bad mix of tentative turnovers and inattentive defense. Whether the cause is a lack of true ball-handling guards, a deficit of above-average defenders to shut down opposing scorers, or the absence of some intangible (insert cliche--a killer instinct, putting the foot on the pedal, etc., etc.--here), the Hoyas have seemed particularly vulnerable to extended opposing runs that turn blowouts into squeakers. Presumably, Georgetown spent the past week practicing breaking the press, splitting double teams, and passing over and beyond swarming defenders. Yet, it seemed to make little difference once the Seahawks got rolling.
It's hard to reconcile the euphoria of a 25-point lead with the terror and rage felt during Georgetown's collapse. A win is a win, but this win was less than satisfying. And nine games into the season, this team still seems less than fully formed. The Hoyas have shown flashes, and even stretches, of great offensive potential, with shooters dotting the perimeter and a pair of post scorers inside. The talents is there, especially on offense. But Georgetown has frequently gone dry offensively and failed to get stops defensively, sometimes at the same, inopportune time.
The Hoyas survived a pesky foe despite a disastrous stretch. Now, they have to turn their attention to another small name upstart, Monmouth, which visits the Verizon Center Tuesday. Georgetown will need a better effort for the full 40 minutes to win then.