Hold onto your butts. In the middle of an at best middling season, your Georgetown Hoyas carried a dispiriting loss and a season of missed opportunities into an arena that has caused them nothing but grief over the past two seasons. A few short hours later, your conquering heroes emerged from the Cintas Center with a convincing 81-72 win over #5 Xavier. Following several disappointing close calls, this was the win Georgetown had been seeking all season.
After a half-season in the wilderness, Tre Campbell returned, leading all scorers with a career-high 21 points, including 17 points before the break, when a strong first half staked Georgetown's claim for an upset bid. Campbell was the offensive spark plug from the go, hitting a game-opening three-pointer and following that triple up with four more bombs throughout the game. Lil Tre has had a rough sophomore year so far, missing time with an unspecified injury and then looking lost even when on the court. Tuesday, he carried none of that baggage, hunting shots early in the shot clock, either attacking the rim or firing away from deep.
Campbell was not alone. Senior guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera also had a day. DSR poured in 20 points to go with 7 assists, leading an offense that was unrecognizable just 3 days after being thoroughly stifled by Villanova. Both guards found themselves wide open from beyond the arc, in Smith-Rivera's case sometimes from very deep, finding gaps in Xavier's defense whether it chose to go man or trot out a 1-3-1 zone. But they balanced out those long-range shots by attacking the basket off the cut and the bounce.
Smith-Rivera managed his combo guard responsibilities perhaps better than at any point this season, setting up his teammates in addition to finding his own points. DSR found teammates on the wing, where LJ Peak finished with 13 points, and deep in the post, where Jessie Govan also had 13, while Bradley Hayes scored 9. Georgetown's offensive explosion was real, and it was spectacular.
In general, the ball was moving better than at any other point this season. Georgetown assisted on 21 of 26 made baskets. Ball reversals, post entry passes, kick-outs, skip passes to weakside shooters, it all appeared to come so easily and rendered the Hoyas unrecognizable from the team that couldn't unlock basic offensive sets as recently as Saturday.
The revitalized offense, combined with an energetic defense, kept Georgetown ahead, usually by an arm's length or more, throughout the second half. The Hoyas held Xavier to just 35 percent shooting, continuing a recent trend of improved defense, especially inside. Georgetown failed to force turnovers, but otherwise turned in a solid defensive effort, forcing enough Xavier misses and battling the tough-minded Musketeers to a rebounding draw.
Georgetown didn't play the perfect game. Forwards Isaac Copeland, Reggie Cameron, and Marcus Derrickson combined to score just 4 points on a combined 1 of 10 shooting. Each contributed in other ways, with Cameron in particular setting up Campbell and Smith-Rivera's shooting to the tune of 5 assists. But that forward trio should score more on the average night, even if Campbell's explosion is unlikely to continue.
It's hard to overstate how unexpected this result was, especially in this up and (mostly) down season. Of course, the ready-made headline is that Georgetown had missed its first three chances to beat top-10 teams this season, but the fourth time proved to be a charm. But that understates how improbable this was. To use a familiar statistical crutch, Georgetown entered the game at Xavier slated at #65 in KenPom's ratings, swimming in the same sea of mediocrity into which the UNC Asheville loss had dumped it. For its part, Xavier stood at #8 before taking its home court. That court being in Cincinnati further titled the odds in the Musketeers' favor, and yet Georgetown pulled off a convincing road win. Despite all the garbage over the past two months, the ensuing win vaulted the Hoyas to KenPom's #45, a leap far greater than any decline caused by those embarrassing non-conference losses.
What this win means now remains to be determined. Georgetown still has six weeks of regular season play remaining. That stretch that could see the Hoyas evolve into the NCAA Tournament team we expected them to be. To do that, Georgetown needs to win at least 6, or more likely 7, more games, either sweeping the games in which the Hoyas are favored or pulling off one or two more upsets. Or, Georgetown could simply tread water before eventually submitting to an NIT bid. Was Tuesday the start of something better, or just a a fun blip? We may know Saturday, when Georgetown travels to Hartford to renew its rivalry with UConn. Here's hoping Georgetown can carry over tonight's performance to the weekend.