Hope fully evaporated Wednesday night when the Hoyas collapsed down the stretch en route to losing at Providence, 76-70. The defeat drops Georgetown to 0-3 in Big East play, the worst conference start in the JT3 era, and snuffs out even the faintest glimmer of post-season delusion.
It seems laughable now, but Georgetown had some cause for hope entering tonight’s game. As lousy as the Hoyas’ opening to conference play was, the Friars’ was worse, as they came into the game dead last in both offensive and defensive efficiency in conference play.
But it turned out that the cure to what ailed Providence was playing Georgetown, rather than the other way around. For the first half, the Friars gummed up the Hoyas’ inept offense, holding the Hoyas to just 23 points on 31 possessions, and scoreless for several long stretches as Providence built a seven-point lead.
Georgetown’s most reliable source of points before the break, and in fact all game long, was its two power forwards, Marcus Derrickson and Akoy Agau. Derrickson scored both inside and out, bodying and stroking his way to a career-high 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting that included 4 made three-pointers, his fourth straight game in double figures. Agau matched Doc’s energy, earning a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds solely based on his activity around the basket.
Outside the four spot, though, every one else pretty much stunk. After struggling in the conference opener at Marquette, junior wing LJ Peak again couldn’t find his shot on the road, hitting just 2 of 12 shots for 6 points and failing to make his mark in other ways, tallying just 3 rebounds and 2 assists. The other half of the Hoyas’ scoring wing tandem, Rodney Pryor, was not much better, managing just 6 of 18 from the field, including 3 of 11 from beyond the arc.
There wasn’t any relief at point guard or center, where Jonathan Mulmore, Jagan Mosley, and Bradley Hayes combined to commit as many turnovers as they scored points (3). Jessie Govan couldn’t make up for the Hayes’ slack inside, although he did dish out 5 assists to go with a ho-hum 7 points.
After the break, Derrickson single-handedly pulled Georgetown out of its offensive rut. The sophomore wide body scored 21 of his 26 points in the second half, stepping beyond the arc, ducking up and under around the rim, and generally abusing whichever Friar tried to defend him. In one particularly bruising sequence, MD posted up twice in a row for muscular baskets, then converted a pair of free-throws that put the Hoyas ahead, 52-51.
But that wasn’t enough to keep up with a Providence attack that, after scoring just 147 points in 175 possessions of Big East play, suddenly found its footing against, you guessed it, Georgetown’s porous defense. After Derrickson’s second free-throw, the Friars proceeded to score an absurd 21 points on their next 11 trips down the floor, running away with what had been a nip-and-tuck game. The Friars simply outworked the Hoyas down the stretch, engineering their closing sequence at the line, in the paint, and on second chances, making energy plays as the visitors withered.
Tonight’s loss was of a piece with Georgetown’s recent history against Providence and the new Big East more generally. The Hoyas have lost four straight in Providence and five straight against the Friars generally. Georgetown has lost its last 7 conference road games and, as Bobby Bancroft pointed out, its last 13 games against Big East opponents other than perennial cellar dwellers DePaul and St. John’s. Even including those two gimme opponents, Georgetown is just 2-13 in its last 15 Big East games, even worse than the 3-12 stretch that closed out Craig Esherick’s stint on the Hilltop. Many of these recent losses, including tonight’s, can be traced by a deficit of energy and indifferent defense.
Having now lost its first three in a four-game sequence that it needed to at least split, Georgetown has fumbled away even the slimmest hope of a return to the NCAA Tournament. This loss leaves the Hoyas closer to a second-straight sub-.500 season (KenPom now has them finishing 15-16) than to a return to the Dance.
Coaches who suffer two straight losing seasons generally don’t recover, and the Hoyas don’t appear any closer to figuring out what formula might work beyond this season. Defensively, Georgetown has gone from a press, which it scrapped, to a trapping, lane-jumping scheme, which it scrapped, to a vanilla zone defense that isn’t fooling anyone. The Hoyas have stopped forcing turnovers and once again have a case of the hacks, sending their opponents to the free-throw line at the highest rate in the conference. On the other end, Georgetown’s running, rim-attacking offense has been swallowed up by Big East defenses, which haven’t been sending the Hoyas to the line at the same rate as non-conference opponents.
Overall, despite the change in personnel and style, Georgetown’s statistical profile so far this season (56th in KenPom, 56th offensively, 76th defensively) looks a lot more like last season’s failure (62nd, 66th, 80th) than like any other season in the JT3 era. The Hoyas look like a lost team with a lost coach.
Georgetown doesn’t have much time to find itself. On Saturday, the Hoyas return home to host #18 Butler, which just knocked off top-ranked, defending-national-champion Villanova tonight. That game, a competitive, tense game between ranked teams, is a reminder of what conference play is like for about half of the Big East. Georgetown is increasingly slipping into the other half, now 27-30 in three-plus seasons in the new conference. Georgetown is anchoring the new conference, just not in the way it expected.