Did anybody remember there was going to be a basketball game tonight? Your Georgetown Hoyas did, beating the Spartans of UNC-Greensboro by a never-comfortable 22 point margin. This contest did not attract much attention, yet the team treated this outcome as anything but a sure thing.
The solid performance this evening was a tacit recognition that this squad had no leeway to lose a trap game to close out non-conference play. Since collective morale hit a nadir after the trip to Maui, the Hoyas have quietly strung together 6 solid wins. (Note: I refuse to use the word "streak" - each contest should be treated as an independent entity, with its own unique struggles and season-tilting significance.)
If you glanced at the opponent's profile beforehand, this did not figure to be a winter wonderland stroll for the Hoyas. Georgetown's struggle to play consistent defense across all positions could have been a liability when four of the UNCG starters were averaging double figures and a trio of their guards were making three pointers at a rate better than 40%. The Spartans were also off to the best opening in program history, with Monday's road win at UNC-Asheville bringing their tally up to 9-3. In order to win, Georgetown needed to do two things: defend the three-point line and protect the ball from the steal-inclined hands of senior guard Diante Baldwin.
The game got off to an encouraging start, with Jagan Mosely taking it in for the layup and-1, which he converted. Georgetown's defense opened with a strong press, forcing UNCG’s senior center RJ White to go inside for a contested jumper. This strategy prevented a basket on the initial shot, but it also gave a preview of what the Hoyas would struggle with most through the game. Forward Jordy Kuiper redirected the offensive rebound into the hands of Francis Alonso, giving the Spartans their first basket. At the end of the first half, UNCG had a 10-1 offensive rebounding advantage over the Hoyas.
JTIII stuck with his recent pattern of giving more playing time to the guard with the steadiest hand, allowing his freshman significantly more minutes than in Saturday's game against Syracuse. Mosely rewarded this faith by feeding a nicely screened pass to Jessie Govan, who finished the layup. Govan followed this up with a poke-steal at the other end that allowed LJ Peak to get out for an athletic layup in transition. They Hoyas could not get their defense set quickly, and Baldwin returned the favor at the other end. The brisk pace of recent games was back again.
In addition to the threat of sharpshooting guards, a look at the Spartans' roster showed that the Hoyas frontcourt was going to have their hands full. Unlike many matchups with mid-major opponents, Georgetown could not rely on a size disparity to tip the table in their favor. With 5 players listed at 6'8" or taller, advantage in the paint would have to be gained through skill, not stature. Two quick fouls on Akoy Agau shortened the early rotation slightly. Jessie Govan picked up right where he left off against Cuse, finishing his layups and connecting on jumpers from various positions. Hayes couldn't get his patented hooker to drop early, but the center's physical presence inside did cause UNCG to alter their shooting. Marcus Derrickson's 15 points off the bench were a welcome surprise. Last season's balance and touch seem to be returning as his knee injury slowly fades into the rearview mirror.
The offense as a whole was clicking well in the first half. Rodney Pryor nailed his threes, Peak nabbed a steal and drew the foul as he drove to the basket, and Jon Mulmore made the most of his early minutes with a pretty teardrop jumper that capped off a 13-1 run for the Hoyas. Communication lapses on defense and failing to block out after UNCG misses allowed the Spartans to make some easy baskets, keeping the score close. The offensive rebounding never improved, but the Hoyas did a better job of sticking to their man on defense and keeping their opponents away from the three-point line. In particular, Mosely deserves recognition for his tireless, swarming pursuit of Demetrius Troy. This effort translated into a 6+ minute scoring drought for the Spartans until Diante Baldwin scored and did his best to swing the momentum in the other direction. The Hoyas answered emphatically, with Kaleb Johnson making his first three-pointer of the season and Govan draining one of his own only seconds later.
The Hoyas should be proud of the fact that UNCG went 0/7 from beyond the arc in the opening half. This statistic was an insurmountable obstacle for the Southern Conference team that (per the FS1 broadcast) takes 75% of their shots from outside.
Marcus Derrickson, playing with two fouls, gave the Hoyas (and likely himself) a psychological boost early in the second half when he coolly put away a three from NBA range. UNCG recognized that the sophomore's shooting was dangerous and decided to double-team him in the paint on a subsequent offensive possession. MD handled the contact without issue and found Govan on the perimeter, setting up yet another 3-pointer for #15. The Hoyas received some indirect help in the offensive rebounding department when UNCG's second-leading rebounder, RJ White, picked up his third foul before the U16 and had to sit. His absence opened up the interior considerably, allowing Tre Campbell to stick around under the rim after a series of misses and pick up some third-chance points.
Peak didn't tally the same scoring figures as the past three games. Instead, his contribution was full of smooth passes and assists, drawn fouls, and a keen awareness that facilitated plays for his teammates. He followed through to the end of possessions, collecting an offensive rebound and drawing the foul off what should have been an easy transition basket from Mosely to Pryor. His execution in this leadership role showcases just how much of a complete player the junior has developed into.
The story of the night, throughout both halves and at both ends of the court, was the performance of Jessie Govan. He finished his jumpers with a soft touch, made both open and contested threes, took dunks strongly to the rim, blocked two shots on a single possession and even demonstrated the rare Georgetown semi-oop. He finished with 20 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 blocks. We'll break that all down and relive the glory more later in the week.
It's hard to believe, but this was the final non-conference game. (UConn does not count.) Big East play kicks off only 6 days from now! Georgetown carries a very respectable 8-4 record into next week's opener against Marquette. They also carry the memory of the way they used some disappointing losses to make an impressive course correction in both performance and demeanor over the past 4 weeks. That feat seemed impossible. To quote Home Alone, “This is *Christmas*! The season of perpetual hope!”
The Hoyas got a win. What more could you want?