Rodney Pryor scored 23 points and swingman LJ Peak added points 22 and 8 rebounds to help Georgetown knock off upstart mid-major Elon, 77-74. Those efficient scoring performances were among the few highlights in a win that saw Georgetown looking lost defensively, outworked on the glass, and, for much of the first half, uninspired offensively. With the narrow victory, Georgetown ensured that it will not meet last season's quota of 3 home losses to mid-majors.
Elon is a solid mid-major opponent. The Phoenix move the ball well, can shoot the lights out from 3, and work their buts off on the glass. They are several tiers above Howard or Coppin State, the last two visitors to the Verizon Center. This was never going to be a 50-point beatdown.
That said, Georgetown, ten-point favorites entering the game, could and should have played much better than it did. The Hoyas fell into a double-digit-point hole in the first half, rolling out slow, ineffective traps that Elon easily broke to find wide open shooters. The Phoenix made 5 of their first 6 from the perimeter, exposing Georgetown's pressure defense that remains better in concept than in execution. Even as the Hoyas rotated back into a vanilla zone, Elon exposed defensive lapses and grabbed second chances off the offensive glass. Even after shaking off some early offensive struggles, Georgetown trailed by six with just over a minute to play before the half.
Georgetown finally righted the ship on defense, outscoring Elon 22-5 over six minutes spanning halftime. The Hoyas buckled down defensively, staying close to Elon's shooters and staying away from double-teams that served only to free up perimeter looks for the Phoenix. When the Hoyas' perimeter shots weren't falling, Georgetown worked inside-out, as Bradley Hayes and Jessie Govan (13 points, 3 rebounds, 4 blocks) pounded the ball inside and Hoya wings cut to the basket. A few short minutes after the break, Georgetown's lead swelled to 50-41.
But Georgetown's hadn't solved the Elon puzzle. The Phoenix kept coming, using their sweet-shooting bigs to stretch Georgetown's slower posts away from the basket while also outworking the Hoyas on the boards, 36-22. Even when Georgetown rebuilt a 1-point lead back up to 8, a Maryland-esque collapse was on the table.
And then it almost happened. A couple of Georgetown turnovers led to a badly missed Marcus Derrickson lay-up and then two missed free throws, both on the front-end of one-and-ones. All the while, Elon got a three here and a lay-up there. A missed Peak free-throw gave Elon the ball and a chance to tie the game with 7 seconds remaining. Fortunately for the Hoyas, Phoenix point guard Luke Eddy over-dribbled trying to find an open perimeter shooter, running out the clock before Elon could get off a game-tying heave.
This game should not have been this close. Elon is a talented, well-coached unit who play to their strengths, especially on offense. But Georgetown made the game far too tight, coming out with a bad defensive game plan that involved pressing and trapping a team that ranks in the top third in the country in turnover rate. Elon wasn't likely to be fazed by the Hoyas' feeble press, and wasn't in fact. Georgetown took far too long to adjust by falling back into simple zone and man looks that would have kept Elon's shooters within reach. Even after shifting into a more conservative scheme, the Hoyas were prone to miscues--sloppy positioning that allowed easy Elon blow-bys, miscommunications that opened up space for Phoenix shooters, or slow close-outs that gave time for another long jumper. In the end, Georgetown was one Elon jumper away from going to overtime, at home, against Elon.
The Hoyas' three-game home winning streak hasn't moved the needle much, as Georgetown came home ranked 60th in Ken Pomeroy's rankings and now sits at 63rd. Despite peeking their head above .500 at 5-4, the Hoyas still project to finish 1 game below .500 for the season. Setting aside the numbers, Georgetown also didn't appear to answer many of its most pressing questions. Who is the Hoyas' best point guard? Who is their best center? Power forward? What is their best defensive scheme? Should they play slow, or fast? How can they better protect the ball? How can they shore up the defensive boards?
Georgetown won't have much margin for error as it tries to answer these questions. Georgetown travels to Miami to play LaSalle next weekend, which is a decided step up from Elon, and then heads to the bowels of the Carrier Dome to play hated Syracuse the following Saturday. Shortly thereafter, conference play begins, with precious few guaranteed victories. Will the Hoyas turn things around, or are they headed for their third March outside the Dance in the last four seasons? We'll see.