After nearly an entire game of frustrating, uneven, foul-plagued play, Georgetown closed the last two and a half minutes against Creighton with great vengeance and furious anger, finishing with a 15-3 run that was just enough to pull out a 74-73 victory. Despite being powerless to stop Creighton's offense for the first 37 minutes, Georgetown's suddenly swarming defense clamped down on the Blue Jay attack, and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera took the offensive reins late, scoring with a game-high 19 points. With the scintillating finish, Georgetown snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, a mirror image of Saturday, when the Hoyas fumbled away the chance at a road win at UConn. The Hoyas needed a win tonight to keep their slim NCAA Tournament odds afloat, and got the right result, however improbably.
It's hard to overstate how unlikely a Georgetown comeback seemed as game time dwindled. The Hoyas could simply not stop Creighton, which scored a scorching 1.13 points per possession before the comeback began. Blue Jay guard Maurice Watson Jr. was the main villain, getting to the rim at will and setting up rolling, popping, and cutting teammates on the perimeter and in the paint. Watson had his way with Georgetown's guards and bigs alike, finishing with 16 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds, a gaudy line that seems not to do justice to the pain he inflicted on the Hoya defense.
In addition to struggling to stop Creighton's lead guard, Georgetown had trouble controlling the post. Blue Jay bigs Geoffrey Groselle and Zach Hanson combined for 23 points and 6 of Creighton's 15 offensive rebounds. The visitors grabbed 39 percent of their own misses, which Creighton turned into 13 second-chance points. Those put-backs largely made up for the Blue Jays' uncharacteristically cold 4-of-21 from beyond the arc. Only that ice-cold outside shooting prevented an outright Creighton rout.
A third reason Georgetown struggled defensively was the familiar culprit: fouls. Many of the whistles were typically well-earned, as Hoya defenders thoughtlessly reached, lunged, or charged their way into foul trouble. But, for much of the second half, the referees compounded Georgetown's foul problems by penalizing all contact, real and imaged. Jessie Govan was called for his fourth foul when his shoulder twitched as he set a pick, then fouled out when he grabbed an offensive rebound as a Creighton defender in Govan's vicinity suffered some sort of spasmodic episode. That was pretty typical for the foul calls, on Georgetown anyway, for the middle of the second half. All of the whistles made JT3 and the sparse home crowd go berserk.
And yet, for a while, the overflowing of emotion only seemed to take Georgetown out of the game. A Watson jumper pushed the Creighton lead to double digits, then he continued to torture the Hoyas, sapping the few remaining minutes only to turn a dwindling shot clock into more Creighton points. With 2:30 to play, the Blue Jays led by 11, and the game appeared out of reach.
Bet then it all started happening. Between the rage of the crowd and the panic of desperation, the defense came alive. On offense, Smith-Rivera went to work, getting into the lane time and time again. First, a Bradley Hayes pick created enough space for DSR to penetrate before kicking to Marcus Derrickson for a corner 3 to cut the lead to 8. Derrickson had been in a shooting slump for the past 3 games, missing all 7 of his three-point attempts since sitting out the St. John's game with a minor knee injury, Tuesday, he was back in top form, hitting three triples and playing energetic defense, gamely trying to corral Blue Jays on the perimeter.
After the teams traded free throws, Georgetown still trailed by eight with just 1:36 to play. A DSR drive yielded one free throw, then, when Georgetown got the ball back after a miss was knocked out of bounds, Smith-Rivera drove again and found easy points at the rim. The Georgetown press forced a turnover when LJ Peak and Derrickson trapped their way into a steal, and DSR rushed up the court before drawing a foul on yet another foul, converting both free throws to narrow the deficit to just 3 at 71-68.
Then the roof almost blew off the Phone Booth. Freshman guard Kaleb Johnson, he of the infinite energy and wing span, stopped Watson cold at half court, then deftly picked the Blue Jay's pocket and glided down the court for a breakaway dunk. Johnson had a pair of mistakes in the closing minutes at UConn, and the steal and dunk against Creighton were sweet redemption. The lead was down to just 1, where it stood with under 30 seconds to play, when Georgetown regained possession after Creighton missed a pair of free throws.
Just as they had to begin the run, the Hoyas turned to Smith-Rivera, their leading scorer. The senior guard broke down Watson and drew a foul with 6 seconds remaining. The foul led to a pair of DSR's free throws, which put Georgetown ahead by 1. It also was Watson's fifth, taking him out of the game and out of the game's final possession, on which Creighton couldn't score as time expired.
This game was not pretty, especially on the defensive end. Georgetown's season-long defensive struggles continued. Hoya bigs Hayes and Jessie Govan were abused by Watson in the pick and roll before getting themselves into early foul trouble. That abuse only abated twice. First, Trey Mourning closed the first half at center, playing his best ball as a Hoya in scoring 6 points and using his defensive agility to stay in front of Creighton's guards. Second, Creighton was slowed down at the end when, not coincidentally, Georgetown went small, playing Derrickson and Isaac Copeland as its two bigs as part of the press. At the risk of repeating myself in game recaps, Georgetown's defense and rampant fouling remain problems, especially against smaller, quicker guards.
But the press, and Smith-Rivera's aggressiveness off the bounce, were enough to squeak out a win tonight. For all the ups and downs, the Hoyas have actually been doing a decent amount of winning in Big East play, going 6-2 to date and occupying second place in the conference standings. After weak non-conference play, the Hoyas will need to continue their strong conference play Saturday, when #10 Providence rolls into town.