The Georgetown Hoyas did us all a favor Thursday night by providing most of the student body with their first win in the NCAA Tournament, vanquishing the pesky Eagles of Eastern Washington 84-74. The Hoyas built their lead by outscoring Eastern Washington 37-11 over a 10-minute stretch spanning across the late 1st and early 2nd halves, and despite continuous pressing, fouling, and 3-point shooting from Eastern Washington, were able to hold on.
Early on, this one looked like a nightmare. Foul trouble exiled Joshua Smith to the bench, Eastern Washington was raining down 3's, and the Hoyas looked erratic on both sides of the ball. Right before the Hoyas' run, when the Eagles took a 26-21 lead with seven minutes to go in the first half, I moved back into the beanbag chair in which I was sitting, curled into the fetal position, and said, "I want my mommy." The Hoyas helped assuage my fears, however, as the defense tightened up and coach John Thompson III made an intriguing in-game adjustment.
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera led the way with 25 points as per usual. Jabril Trawick showed a lot of energy on the court, scoring 10 points and nearly earned himself a technical by being too energetic. The remaining trio of starters of Joshua Smith, LJ Peak, and Isaac Copeland, however, combined for 4 points, with the latter two players going scoreless. But Coach Thompson made the play of the game by turning to and sticking with his bench players. All five players who came off the bench scored more than 8 points, and totaled 45 points while playing substantial minutes, especially in the first half.
Each of the bench guys who played deserves a shout-out for being awesome tonight. Paul White delivered an efficient 10 points, shooting 4-5 from the field and 2-3 from downtown. Aaron Bowen scored 8 points, and despite shooting only 1-5 from the free throw line was still able to pester Eastern Washington by playing strong defense and drawing fouls. Tre Campbell played a solid, if quiet, game by scoring 9 off the bench. Back on Selection Sunday, I straggled for a bit and passed Mikael Hopkins as I walked out. I tapped him on the arm and said, "go get 'em, Mikael." I guess he listened, while also interpreting my encouragement to mean "Get your points from the free throw line." Hopkins was a perfect 8-8 from the charity stripe and was 1 rebound shy of a double-double, putting up 10 points and 9 boards.
But the star of the night had to be Bradley Hayes. Hoya Twitter, the Casual Game Thread, and my fellow students watching in New South's brand new Healey Family Student Center all groaned at the sight of him. But some way, somehow, Hayes decided to thaw tonight. When nothing else was going, Hayes was carving his way through Eastern Washington, grabbing 8 points and 6 rebounds on the night, all during the Hoyas' big run at the end of the first half. When I saw Hayes grab his first rebound and then put the ball in, I cheered while laughing. "Yay, he did something" was my thought. Shortly thereafter he did it again. Now the thought was, "Wow, Hayes is having a career night!" Then he drew a foul and made both his free throws. I had no idea what Bradley Hayes shooting free throws even looked like until tonight, but he made them both! I could hear myself thinking that everything in life had been turned upside down. By his third bucket, when he went up to 8 points and thus doubled his season point total, I started laughing maniacally, because that seemed like the only acceptable thing to do in this upside-down world where DSR can't make the front end of a 1-and-1 but Bradley Hayes is carving up Eastern Washington like a dad who refuses to let his kid win at one-on-one.
Ok, now that I've gotten all my Hayes praise out of my system, I feel the need to raise an eyebrow about the last 6-8 minutes of the game. The Hoyas made it rain in Portland with their 3-pointers and played stingy defense early in the second half, but then played some frazzled basketball late. The interior defense was caving and allowing the oddly-named Venky Jois to score many of his 19 points inside. Georgetown was struggling to get the ball in bounds against one of the worst defenses in this tournament and seemed to be coughing up the ball on every possession late. Worse still, the referees appeared to be giving Eastern Washington free throws the way Oprah Winfrey gives out cars. Every time down the court, "you get free throws, and you get free throws, and hey, Tyler Harvey, you get a four-point play." Harvey's four-point play helped add to his team-leading 27 points. Personally, I'd like to chalk up the late-game sluggishness to the time zone difference, since it was approaching 1 AM Eastern time when this one finished up, but that's something that might concern me in advance of Saturday's matchup against Utah.
The experience of watching this game was much better than the last time I attended an on-campus NCAA Tournament game watch. I am only a sophomore, but I happened to be on campus for my accepted students weekend and staying in the Leavey Center Hotel when I decided to go downstairs and watch the Hoyas' first game of the tourney with students. In a weird way, the experience I had that day helped motivate me to go here, but I did not want to relive it. Thankfully this watch was much better attended. At least a few hundred students attended to watch. Two local TV stations showed up, with one even interviewing me. I also was very excited because I got to fulfill a dream of mine and start a singing of "There Goes Old Georgetown" by shouting "How long's it been?" The crowd was raucous and energetic all game, treating the game watch as if it were an in-person game. There was heckling, cheering, and even a "Chick-Fil-A" chant on one of the late Eastern Washington free throws. The watch even erupted into a Bradley Hayes chant late in the first half.
Things got tense late in the second half as Eastern Washington trimmed the deficit, but that didn't prevent the crowd from erupting with joy after the final buzzer, emphatically chanting Hoya Saxa and then singing the fight song again for good measure. The crowd got quite the kick out of Jabril Trawick's game-ending dunk that seemed to add further insult to Eastern Washington, and I particularly enjoyed it, since when I wished Jabril luck on Selection Sunday, he specifically stopped me to tell me that he recognized me from the crowd and that the team appreciates what I and my fellow students do. The dunk may not have been the most sportsmanlike thing to do, but the Hoyas earned the right to celebrate, considering Eastern Washington coach Jim Hayford's guarantee of a win and many "expert" pundits picking an upset. Who's upset now? Hoyas needed to make sure the "experts" ate their words.
All right, all right, so maybe I shouldn't be so excited about one NCAA Tournament win. But it's my first, hopefully of many. This team is not perfect, and it wasn't tonight, but it came out on top thanks to great teamwork and bench play. The starters faltered, so the bench picked up the slack. The student fans could not support their Hoyas in person but still passionately cheered on their squad. There's so much to love about right now, especially since we've made it out of the first round for the first time since I was in 11th grade, but it's on to the next one. The Hoyas better be set for the game against Utah on Saturday. Let's do this again!
Hoya Saxa! Beat Utah! One step at a time on the path to glory!