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Comeback Isn't Enough as Georgetown Loses to Butler, 90-87

Hoyas mount last-minute run to force overtime but can't pull off win on foul- and turnover-plagued Senior Day.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Georgetown came up just short on a dramatic Senior Day. After falling behind by 15 with barely 3 minutes to play, the Hoyas rattled off a 18-3 run to force overtime against Butler. But foul trouble and turnovers ultimately doomed Georgetown to a 90-87 loss.

The comeback was an admirable display of heart by the Hoyas despite their difficult season and inconsistent play today. The game was back-and-forth, as Georgetown faced three separate double-digit margins, only to claw its way back each time. The Hoyas fell behind by 11 points in the first half, came back within 2, but then trailed by 9 at the break. Butler built another 11-point advantage after the break, gave up a 13-point Georgetown run to fall behind, and then poured on 16 straight points fueled by some truly embarrassing Hoya turnovers.

And so it stood at 67-52 with 3:34 remaining. A series of missed free throws by Butler and energy plays by Georgetown got the Hoyas back within 9 with just under one minute to play. Then Isaac Copeland began to take over offensively, making up for what to that point had been a disappointing day. Ike hit his lone three-pointer on five attempts, narrowing the deficit to 79-73 and bringing the 1/3-full Verizon Center to its feet.  The Hoya press resulted in a why'd-he-shoot-that missed contested lay-up by Kellen Dunham, and Copeland drove to the hoop for another basket to pull Georgetown within four.  Georgetown's press again got the Hoyas the ball back, this time with Riyan Williams drawing a charge, and Reggie Cameron rattled home a drive to make it a two-point game. The Phone Booth was hopping, as the faithful yearned for even a shred of late-season joy.

Butler converted one of two free throws, and with 18 seconds remaining and a chance to tie, Georgetown called a timeout. The purpose of that timeout was never revealed, as the Hoyas ran no play, freed no shooter, and did nothing at all that showed any design or plan devised on the sideline. Instead, Copeland was forced into a semi-desperation three, on which he was mercifully fouled.  The sophomore forward coolly sank all three attempts, tying the game, and a Butler heave was not enough to avoid overtime.

The casual reader who didn't watch the game might, at this point ask, wait, why were Cameron and Williams playing crunch time? Fouls. LJ Peak, who managed 14 points on an efficient 5-of-7 shooting, fouled out with just over 1 minute to play, joining Marcus Derrickson on the bench with 5 fouls. Those two weren't alone, as Georgetown committed 32 fouls on the day, giving up 44 free throws to Butler. (Those numbers shrink to a paltry 28 and 36, respectively, if you exclude last-minute fouls to extend the game.) In overtime, Smith-Rivera and Kaleb Johnson would add themselves to the list of the disqualified.

Anyone who has followed the team knows that today is no fluke: Georgetown is the 8th-worst team in the nation in foul rate this season. Nor is this season a blip on the radar. For the third straight season, the Hoyas have been unable to keep their hands off of their opponents, failing to adjust to freedom of motion rules that at this point should not require adjustment. The personnel has changed, but Georgetown's inability to defend without fouling hasn't.

The other relevant number, which explains Georgetown's up-and-down performance throughout the game, is the Hoyas' 23 turnovers. The Hoyas started giving the ball away early, frittering away an early lead with turnovers on five straight possessions, leading to 9 straight Butler points that staked the Bulldogs and early lead. For the first half, Georgetown's 12 turnovers led to 19 Butler points. With 7 minutes remaining in regulation, Georgetown had committed all but one of their turnovers, giving Butler's otherwise tepid offense a jump-start whenever the Bulldogs were struggling.

Again, today's performance was emblematic of a season-long struggle. Georgetown has never protected the ball particularly well under JT3, but for the last few years anyway had managed to commit turnovers at a merely passable (as opposed to catastrophic) rate. This season has been a disaster, as the Hoyas have turned the ball over on nearly 20 percent of possessions, placing them in the bottom third in that category nationally.

Fouls and turnovers ultimately doomed Georgetown's overtime hopes. After pouring in 26 points on Senior Day, Smith-Rivera went to the pine with his fifth foul. With him and Peak now out of the game, the Hoyas had precious little chance of creating offense, and managed just 3 points on 6 meaningful remaining possessions. And all of the accumulated fouls meant automatic trips to the line for Butler, which paraded to the line for 12 overtime free throws. Ball-handling problems only surfaced once in overtime, but that one miscue came at precisely the wrong time, as Copeland fumbled away a last-minute chance to tie the game when he lost the ball out of bounds.

Calling a game back-and-forth and up-and-down can create the impression that it could, or should, have gone either way. Butler rightly won this game, and should have won by quite a bit more. Dunham, a sterling free-throw shooter, missed 5 freebies on the day, and the Bulldogs as a whole shot just 64 percent from the line, quite a bit off of their normally excellent 73 percent. Despite all these misses, Butler led for nearly 40 of Saturday's 45 minutes, often by large margins. Georgetown should not have been in a position to win Saturday, and was lucky to even have a chance.

Today was Senior Day, and so three Hoyas deserve recognition, although I'll be brief here. DSR has had a stellar career by any measure and played well today. He is Georgetown's fifth-leading scorer and a terrific competitor. Too often over the past two seasons, he has been forced to bear too much responsibility on teams that have too few other guards. That is the fault of the coaching staff, and not of Smith-Rivera. Bradley Hayes did not play today, as he continued to sit out with a broken hand, but the big fella has enjoyed a remarkable senior year after three years of toiling in obscurity. His hard work and rapid ascent in his final season should be commended. And Williams has played hard whenever he's been thrust into a game, usually to cover for the team's foul trouble (and, again, a roster with too few guards on it).

With the defeat, Georgetown has lost four straight games and seven of eight. This season is teetering on the edge between disappointing and disastrous. The Hoyas are now below .500 and and are inching closer to their first losing season in the JT3 era. The last two losing seasons in Georgetown basketball both saw coaching changes, as Big John retired in the midst of the '98-'99 season and Craig Esherick was fired after the '03-'04 apocalypse.

Zooming out a bit, the Hoyas are now finishing a three-season stretch in which they have made the NCAA Tournament just once and have been ranked for a grand total of three weeks. In the last nine seasons, Georgetown has missed the Dance three times while winning just three Tournament games. Those numbers require a bit of cherry-picking, but seeing a rosier picture requires either a much greater degree of myopia or a very heavy emphasis on the program's good name. This is a frustrating end to a bad season in a period that has seen fewer and fewer high points.

Georgetown returns to action Tuesday night when it travels to Marquette for the first of a pair of road games to close the regular season. Changing this season's story line from the past two paragraphs will require not just a level of play that Georgetown has reached only fleetingly this season, but consistent play at that level for several games. Judging by today, the past month, and the rest of this season, that standard of play seems out of reach.