It wasn't pretty, but Georgetown pulled out its third straight win Saturday night, getting a few key defensive stops to hold off visiting DePaul, 68-63. The Hoyas overcame damaging defensive lapses and careless ball-handling by dominating the glass and winning a free-throw battle down the stretch. As aesthetically lacking as the game was, Georgetown's win kept it afloat in race for Big East and NCAA Tournament seeding.
Georgetown led for much of the game but couldn't get much separation. Trailing by 3 at the under-8 timeout, the Hoyas scored on each of their next five possessions, rattling off 12 straight points on a pair of three-pointers and a series of offensive rebounds over an undersized DePaul front line. The Blue Demons endured six-plus minutes without a point, and appeared headed for the sort of double-digit loss that has typified their recent losing streak. And yet, the Hoyas stalled out before the half, committing three straight turnovers and losing DePaul's perimeter shooters as the Blue Demons narrowed the deficit to just three.
A similar game unfolded in the second half. Strong interior play by Joshua Smith again pushed the Georgetown advantage to double digits, and the Hoyas appeared primed to put the game away. But again DePaul had a rally in store. Blue Demon guard Billy Garrett (8 points, 7 assists) got into the lane at will, and forward Forrest Robinson (17 points, 5-of-9 3FG) repeatedly shook free behind the arc. In one particularly maddening and harrowing stretch, the Georgetown defense lost track of Robinson on three straight possessions, and in each instance the Blue Demon buried a triple, shrinking the Hoya advantage to just one point with under six minutes to play.
Down the stretch, Georgetown closed off the three-point arc and manufactured just enough offense to stay ahead. Jabril Trawick hit a pair of hard-fought lay-ups, while Isaac Copleand hit a runner coming across the lane. Those baskets and just enough free throws were enough to seal the win.
One game after spreading the wealth offensively in a runaway win against St. John's, the Hoyas lacked much offensive depth. Instead, Georgetown leaned heavily on four tried and true scoring options. D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera continued to be Georgetown's stalwart, slogging through an off night from the field (5 of 13 FG) to score a game-high 19 points while connecting from deep (3 of 6 3FG). While DSR racked up numbers from three-point range and the stripe, the story inside was Smith, who exploited an overmatched DePaul front line to finish with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Smith got deep post position and dominated the offensive glass, where he grabbed 6 Hoya misses that resulted in 9 second-chance points, including three put-backs of his own. Less than two weeks removed from a worrying road trip to Villanova and Seton Hall in which Smith looked tired and frustrated, he was energetic and forceful, opening up driving lanes for his teammates as the DePaul defense closed in around him. One of those beneficiaries was Copleand (12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists), who notched double figures for the third straight game on a diverse series of drives, put-backs, and jumpers. Joining Copeland in a jack-of-all trades performance was Jabril Trawick (10 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists), who continued a strong recent surge in which he's averaged double figures over the past 7 games.
Viewed in isolation, this game is a bit disappointing. DePaul has more than erased the memory of a strong start by losing 7 of its last 8, squandering any chance at an NCAA bid. A perennial doormat, DePaul feels like a guaranteed win, even after last year's embarrassment in the Big East Tournament. Meanwhile, Georgetown has firmed up its postseason plans while staying in contention near the conference standings. With their hot recent play, the Hoyas might reasonably have expected to blow the doors off of the Blue Demons. Against that elevated expectation, a last-minute squeaker was a narrowly averted disaster.
But let's remember from whence we came. Two weeks ago, fresh off an embarrassment by Villanova, Georgetown fans would have killed for three straight wins by an average margin of 15-plus points. That the first two of those wins provided almost all of that margin should not be cause for concern. And DePaul is still in the conference's lower half, but isn't the hapless bottom-feeder of years past. The Blue Demons can do damage offensively, and occasionally did so against the Hoyas. Georgetown did what it needed to do Saturday, albeit in less than convincing fashion.
Georgetown's win, combined with Butler's loss and Providence's off day, puts the Hoyas momentarily in sole possession of second place in the Big East. That may change in the coming week, although not based on Georgetown's play, as the Hoyas will be off until next Saturday's rematch with St. John's. Tonight's performance leaves the Hoyas with plenty to work on during that off week.