One way or another, a streak was going to end tonight. The Georgetown Hoyas had won three in a row against the Marquette Golden Eagles. They had also dropped five straight in Big East play. Unfortunately, a valiant second-half effort (and unbelievably close last-second heave) ended in a one point loss and extended our alma mater's losing streak to a painful six games.
Bad news was rolling in before the game even began. In addition to Bradley Hayes being indefinitely sidelined with a broken hand, Trey Mourning had not traveled with the team to Milwaukee due to an undisclosed illness. Georgetown's already thin bench would be working with an even thinner frontcourt this evening, with freshmen Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson being the Hoyas' only natural options. For those who had been clamoring for John Thompson III to experiment with a smaller lineup, the time had come.
The pace of the game early in the first half felt blistering compared to what one normally expects from these two squads. Georgetown got into a good offensive rhythm early, with L.J. Peak contributing and Isaac Copeland playing up to the lofty expectations of last summer. Jessie Govan picked up his first foul early and was tentative thereafter, allowing Henry Ellenson and Luke Fischer to dominate in the paint. The freshman center was not the only defensive liability. The zone scheme shown by the Hoyas throughout the game was ineffective; rotation lapses resulted in man-to-man defense meant that it was not much better. Traci Carter picked up 7 assists in the first half, and these uncontested layups by Fischer and Ellenson were Georgetown's undoing as the Hoyas sank to a 12 point deficit. Overall, the Golden Eagles would convert more than 70% of their 2-point baskets.
Early on, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera spent more time in the paint being smothered than in any game in recent memory, which resulted in him opening the game on 1/7 shooting. As a team, the Hoyas' (near-)saving grace was their ability to protect the ball. After committing nearly two dozen turnovers against the Butler Bulldogs on Saturday, Georgetown only turned it over 8 times in this contest. The typical second half run came as a result of marginally better defense, good rebounding by Marcus Derrickson and simple, effective offensive sets to take advantage of Copeland's hot hand. It facilitated a 20-10 run, saw DSR set a new career high with 9 assists, and put the Hoyas squarely back in this game.
Bill Raftery described the sophomore forward's play as "elegant"; Gus Johnson began referring to him as Sir Isaac. Copeland was able to take advantage of the mobility disparity between he and Fischer as a drove to the basket, DSR was swarmed on the perimeter but was able to direct traffic and feed Ike inside for the and-1, Govan found him for a three pointer to take the lead just beyond the 4 minute mark.
At this point, Henry Ellenson was sitting out the rest of the game, having rolled his ankle on a bad landing. It should have been the opening Georgetown needed. Peak drove the lane in a beautifully controlled manner to tie the game up at 80. There was hope for the Hoyas. As far as questionable coaching decisions go, the play drawn up during the penultimate timeout was neither innovative not effective. And leaving Riyan Williams on the floor in a one possession game with less than a minute to go is mind-boggling. Any rationalization for that eludes me.
Smith-Rivera's contested pull-up jumper with 5.2 seconds on the clock gave the Hoyas a 1 point advantage. It was the 10th lead change of the game. As viewers feared, Georgetown played frustratingly ineffective defense as the Golden Eagles brought the ball up the floor and the possession culminated with DSR fouling Fischer (67% FT) under the basket with 1.2 seconds left to go. In a postgame radio interview, Coach Steve Wojciechowski said that Fischer and Carter had changed the play in response to the defensive setup Georgetown presented. However it came to pass, the transfer big man knocked down both freethrows, never touching the rim and giving the Golden Eagles an 88-87 advantage.
Was that it? Was it over? Yes and no. This Georgetown team has developed a fine tradition over the course of the season of losing games only in the closest manner possible. Isaac Copeland saw to it that this was no exception. At the end of a career performance that saw him contribute 32 points (22 in the second half), he hoisted up a 3/4 court shot that caught all of the iron. The ball almost went in...except that's not the way this season has gone and we're not that lucky.
The Hoyas are now locked into a 7pm game with the DePaul Blue Demons next Wednesday, March 9th to open the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. But first, they will travel to the Wells Fargo Center this weekend to face the #3 Villanova Wildcats on Senior Day at 12pm on Fox. If they want to win either of those games, the offensive efficiency seen tonight needs to be accompanied by more functional defensive execution.
Now, will checking the results of Super Tuesday make me feel any better about life?