Public embarrassment and desperate NCAA hopes weren’t enough for Georgetown to will itself to victory Saturday. Instead, the Hoyas let a second-half lead slip through their fingers and fell to #17 Xavier, 81-76. The loss dropped Georgetown to 0-2 in conference play, a disappointing start for a team that began the Big East slate on a 6-game winning streak that now seems like ancient history.
The main reason Georgetown lost today was its defense. Don’t let Xavier’s 39 percent shooting from the field fool you: the Hoyas played atrocious defense, allowing 76 points on 68 possessions before Georgetown began fouling intentionally. Chief antagonist was Musketeer guard Edmond Sumner, who got to the rim at will to the tune of 28 points (7-13 FG, 14-17 FT), 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. Sumner’s slashing opened up the court for his teammates, especially gunner JP Macura, who poured in 23 points including 3 triples.
For a half anyway, the Hoyas were able to keep pace with the visitors, running some of the smoothest offense we’ve seen this season. Georgetown attacked the basket against Xavier’s 1-3-1 zone, working the ball to the elbow before hitting open cutters slashing to the rim. Despite making just 2 of 7 three-point attempts, Georgetown scored 38 points before the break, assisting on 10 of 14 made baskets. LJ Peak led the way, burrowing his way to 9 points, all at the basket. Whatever Georgetown’s defensive struggles, the Hoyas looked poised to pull out a high-scoring affair.
But the Hoya attack slowed after the half as Xavier switched to the pack-line defense that has mystified Georgetown season after season. The Hoyas had no corresponding defensive solution as Sumner sliced his way into the lane time and again. In one brutal stretch, Georgetown scored just 3 points across 7 possessions as a two-point lead melted into an eight-point deficit.
The slow transition defense, missed cutters, and hapless help defense that have characterized Georgetown’s season continued Saturday. Through two conference games, Georgetown is allowing 1.13 points per possession, one of the worst marks in the Big East. The Hoyas haven’t forced turnovers (just 10 per game), gave up 38 free-throw attempts against Xavier, and haven’t shored up the defensive glass, still allowing 30 percent of opposing misses as offensive rebounds. It’s been death by a thousand cuts for the Georgetown defense.
And there just hasn’t been enough offense to make up for a leaky, mistake-prone defense. Peak and Rodney Pryor once against led the way with 21 and 20 points, respectively, and Marcus Derrickson notched double figures for his third straight game with 12 points. But the Georgetown point guards and centers combined to shoot just 7 of 19 from the field and a galling 3 of 9 from the line, including two costly missed front-ends of one-and-ones for senior Bradley Hayes.
Considered in a vacuum, today’s game wasn’t an outright embarrassment. The Hoyas hung with a top 20 team that tore apart a solid Providence team earlier this week, one that has bedeviled Georgetown over the past four years. Georgetown led for much of the game and was within a possession or two down the stretch.
But today didn’t occur in a vacuum. This defeat to Xavier comes in a season that began with two embarrassing, crippling non-conference losses. Today also is just three days removed from a sluggish, dispiriting loss to Marquette punctuated by Golden Eagle JaJuan Johnson calling Georgetown’s defensive effort “lazy.”
Desperation and pride should have been enough for Georgetown to come out breathing fire against Xavier. For once against a big opponent this season, the Hoyas should have been the aggressor, punching first instead of waiting to be punched. But instead Georgetown immediately gave up fast-break lay-ups to Macura, and its defense didn’t improve from there.
This indifferent defense would have been unrecognizable just a few years ago. Of course, Georgetown’s halcyon days in the 80s and early 90s were made possible by snarling, intimidating defenders, especially inside. Just four years ago, the Hoyas posted back-to-back seasons with top-10 defenses, as rangy wings, coordinated by vocal leaders inside, suffocated opponents. As recently as 2015, Georgetown managed a top-35 defense despite prominently featuring Joshua Smith and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, as the defensive pride of seasons past lived on in seniors Jabril Trawick and Mikael Hopkins. Last season and this have seen no such hope, no pride with an early season’s fate on the line.
Georgetown needed a win today. Whatever their shortcomings in the season so far, the Hoyas needed to be tougher than a Xavier team that lacks brutal enforcers that have characterized Musketeer teams gone by. Instead, Georgetown played with a pulse that barely registered as elevated. No Hoya dug down for a game-changing stop, and no help defender rotated over for a crucial contest.
In November, Georgetown narrowed its margin for error for conference play, dropping winnable home games against teams they needed to beat to go dancing in March. This week, the Hoyas eliminated that margin entirely, dropping two games when they needed to win at least one. Now, having failed to win a game so far, Georgetown needs to go 10-6 the rest of the way in a conference that looks competent, top to bottom.
The season isn’t over, of course. There is a chance, however slim, that Georgetown goes to Providence and beats a tough Friar team next week, and then returns home to knock off Butler at home. But anything less than a complete turnaround in the week to come will make the hill impossibly steep going forward. And from what we’ve seen so far, does anyone really expect that the Hoyas can make that climb?