Georgetown waited until it was nearly too late Thursday, shooting poorly, failing to mark outside shooters, and generally making one mistake after another. Eventually, the Hoyas fell behind Creighton, the Big East's last-place team, by 6 points with as many minutes to play. Just then, Georgetown clamped down defensively, leaned heavily on star guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, and turned the tables on the Blue Jays, eventually escaping with a 60-55 run. The win was unimpressive but also was all Georgetown needed, enough to advance to Friday night's Big East Tournament semifinals.
Things were choppy all night for the Hoyas. To be fair, Georgetown had demolished Creighton in two previous meetings by an average of more than 20 points per game. Equal parts Hoya regression and Blue Jay motivation ensured that the third meeting wouldn't be so one-sided. Creighton bum-rushed Joshua Smith in the post, neutralizing the Hoya big man's advantage down low. Smith-Rivera and senior Jabril Trawick were hit-or-miss early, and three of the four freshmen regulars were first-half no-shows. Georgetown endured back-to-back five-minute stretches without a field goal, falling behind on three occasions but never out.
For their part, the Blue Jays moved the ball crisply on offense, finding open shooters around the perimeter and cutting big men around the basket. Creighton has been playing better since the Hoyas last saw the Blue Jays in late January, going a respectable 3-5 down the stretch with 4 of those losses by a total of 8 points. That improvement showed Wednesday night, when Creighton trounced DePaul, and again versus the Hoyas on Thursday night.
The principal villain was James Milliken. Coming into tonight, you'd be forgiven if you said, didn't James Milliken commit securities fraud in the '80s? After all, the Blue Jay guard struggled in the teams' first two meetings, hitting just 2 of 17 shots and scoring 8 points combined. Thursday night was a different story, as Milliken, elevated the starting lineup since the last match-up, buried 4 three-pointers and scored a team-high 17 points.
For Georgetown, the exception to the general freshmen goose-egg once again was Tre Campbell, who hit a pair of three-pointers and brought plenty of open-court energy to an otherwise lethargic rotation. Tre's second trey, sandwiched between a DSR triple and a step-in jumper to close the first half, helped push Georgetown ahead by 6 entering the half. At the half, it seemed that maybe the Hoyas' struggles were behind them.
But the second half would prove equally frustrating, as every nip by the Hoyas was followed by a tuck for the Blue Jays. An Isaac Copeland dunk opened the scoring for Georgetown, but eight straight points by Creighton, capped by a Milliken four-point play, tied the game. A pair of Smith post-ups pushed the lead back to five, but a 12-1 Creighton run, fueled by a Darryl Morey dream of two three-pointers and three lay-ups, put the Blue Jays up by 6 and the Hoyas in real danger.
But then Georgetown reversed its fortune instantly and dramatically. On defense, the Hoyas went zone, cutting off Creighton's interior passing and marking perimeter shooters. On offense, DSR acted like the boss that he is. Smith-Rivera hit a high-degree-of-difficulty three, juking his man without taking a dribble before rising up from two steps behind the arc. On the next possession, with Creighton overplaying him toward the perimeter, Smith-Rivera made a beautiful back-door cut and converted an and-one off of a feed by Smith. Now on defense, Smith then stifled Austin Chatman, sliding in front of the Creighton guard and wresting the ball away. On the next trip down, a wide-open Smith post-up put Georgetown ahead for good. Another Georgetown steal begat a DSR jumper which, followed by some free throws, iced the game for the Hoyas.
DSR's gaudy 25 points aside, tonight wasn't pretty. Georgetown shot just 38 percent from the field, as no Hoya beyond Smith-Rivera, Smith, and Campbell hit more than a solitary field goal. The Hoyas also struggled to keep up with Creighton's ball movement, as the Blue Jays assisted on 16 of 21 made field goals and consistently generated open looks beyond the arc and at the rim. Even Georgetown's successes--generating 26 free throws, forcing 18 Creighton turnovers--failed to contribute aesthetically to the game.
And yet, beauty isn't superior to victory and survival. For the rest of the season, all Georgetown needs is to win the next game, and it accomplished the task at hand, even in haphazard fashion, on Thursday. Winning in the Big East Tournament is about pride, and Georgetown maintained its bragging rights over Creighton.
Friday, the competition will stiffen, as the Hoyas will face a Xavier team that swept Georgetown in convincing fashion in the regular season. The Hoyas will need to play better to advance to Saturday's final, and their offense in particular will need to click better than it did against Creighton or in the two stagnant Xavier outings. Ugly though it was, a postseason win is a postseason win. On to tomorrow.