Georgetown trailed by double digits 31 minutes into its Big East Tournament semifinal against Xavier Friday night, just as it had in these teams' first two meetings. Unlike those previous match-ups, the Hoyas came back hard in round 3, mounting a 15-1 run that madea game of it. But even that spirited run was too little, too late, as Georgetown eventually fell, 65-63, the Hoyas' third loss to the Musketeers on the season in as many games.
Early on, things looked good for Georgetown, a change from those ealier one-sided losses to Xavier. Joshua Smith got busy in the post, abusing Matt Stainbrook for 10 first-half points down low. Otherwise, Georgetown's offense found money inside Xavier's packed-in defense: a Jabril Trawick lay-in here, a DSR finish through traffic there, an Aaron Bowen alley-oop and a Paul White three-pointer.
But then the requisite Droughts Against Xavier set in, and Georgetown's offense shut down. The Hoyas scored just 11 points for nearly half the game (19:03, to be exact) turning an eight-point lead into a 20-point deficit in the process. Georgetown just couldn't get anything going. Resident star D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera found a defender in his face and nary an off-ball screen in his favor all evening, finishing with just 11 points on 3 of 9 from the field. Smith didn't score a point after the game's opening minutes, and Stainbrook alternately took advantage of Smith and Mikael Hopkins down low. Jumpers from Georgetown's supporting cast found only rim, if that, failing to take advantage of gaps in Xavier's 1-3-1 zone defense. Things looked beyond hopeless with under 10 minutes to play when a parade of Xavier free throws pushed the Musketeer lead to 20 points.
And yet somehow that wasn't the end. Trawick drew a a shooting foul which Xavier forward Jaylen Reynolds followed up with rightly called technical foul (his second in three games against Georgetown). Three out of four free throws, followed by an Isaac Copeland jumper on the ensuing possession, whittled the deficit to 15 points. Another Ike jumper, followed by a Trawick three, made the lead just 10. Two more Copeland jumpers, the latter from three, made the lead just six with four minutes to play.
Georgetown continued to inch closer, riding Trawick and Copeland all the way. The Hoyas looked to have a real chance with the ball, down just 5 with 2 minutes to play. JT3 drew up a back-door alley-oop from Paul White to Copeland, but the pass was just too high and out of bounds. Still, Xavier continued to miss free throws, leaving the door open just a crack. The Hoyas put their toe in, and then a whole foot repeatedly closing within three points with the ball. But they couldn't complete the comeback, once opting for the quick 2 offered by an easy DSR lay-in, and later having to settle for 2 free throws when Xavier coach Chris Mack twice chose to foul when up 3. A final Xavier missed free throw with a second remaining didn't leave Georgetown time for a final heave.
One night after shooting poorly against Creighton, the Hoyas improved only marginally against Xavier, hitting 40 percent from the field and connecting on just 5 of 19 three-pointers. Bricked jumpers enabled Xavier run outs that led to easy baskets, a vicious cycle during a fallow period that lasted for half the game. Until the belated comeback, Georgetown also struggled to get inside Xavier's defense, whether man or zone, and all those misses from the perimeter failed to stretch the Musketeers. Georgetown's inability to score against an otherwise just-ok Xavier defense was as frustrating as it was mystifying, especially once the comeback got rolling and cracking the Musketeer code didn't seem quite so complex.
Trawick was brilliant in defeat, matching his recent career-high of 19 points earned by one punishing drive to the hoop after another. He hit an important late 3 and also for the most part made his free throws, overcoming recent struggles from the stripe (save for a missed front of a one-and-one). Copeland was agility and precision to Trawick's muscular force, scoring 15 points on a series o jumpers generated on deft cuts into the middle of Xavier zone. White emerged from a long slump to a can a pair of threes, which would be an important development if he can keep it going into the NCAA Tournament.
White aside, the Hoya supporting cast struggled. Mikael Hopkins, Aaron Bowen, Tre Campbell, and LJ Peak combined for just2 points (Bowen's early alley-oop) in 65 minutes, and that group didn't really affect the game in other ways. Some role players, particularly Campbell and on Friday White, have shown more promising signs, raising the question of whether those two should gobble up the minutes of Bowen and Peak, who have been less productive of late. The Hoyas' outside shooting continued to be a problem, and they'll need to get hot from deep to make any noise in the dance.
In all, the loss capped an unimpressive showing in New York. Sure, both Xavier and Creighton were playing at a high level, but it's a hard reality that Georgetown wasn't playing up to its own potential under the bright lights. The Hoyas are still a talented team, capable of winning a game or two next week, but an uncertain wing rotation, fleeting perimeter shooting, and general offensive struggles have been persistent problems that aren't likely to go away when the stakes are highest. Those problems may not matter, given the right match-up or enough hot hands. But it certainly feels like this NCAA Tournament will be a question of luck--whether the right combination of role players shows up, or whether a couple of 3s fall. Given the Hoyas' tortured recent history, hopefully luck will look kindly on us.