A scorching first half from Rodney Pryor and a monster second half from LJ Peak weren’t enough as Georgetown lost in the first round of the Big East Tournament to lowly St. John’s Wednesday night, 74-73. The Hoyas fought valiantly but not competently down the stretch, never wresting control of a second half in which they never led. The defeat, the Hoyas’ sixth straight, concludes their second straight losing season. Georgetown now enters a long off-season where it faces big questions about the future of the program.
Things started off well enough against the Red Storm, as Pryor came out firing, hitting a pair of threes and another jumper as the Hoyas built an early 18-9 lead. Marcus Derrickson and Jessie Govan also hit early jumpers, as the Hoyas moved the ball crisply to find open shooters. The high point for the Hoyas came when Hot Rod went flying to the rim:
But that would be the high point for the Hoyas. The St. John’s comeback that ensued was all too typical for a Georgetown team that has struggled with foul trouble and turnovers all season long. The Hoyas helped the inept Red Storm offense by gifting St. John’s open-court turnovers and foul shots, quickly erasing their own lead. Those free throws resulted from predictable foul trouble: four of five Georgetown starters committed at least two fouls, including three called on Hoya star Peak.
Unfortunately, the whistles have been all too common in recent times. In each of the past four seasons, Georgetown has finished eighth or worse in foul rate in Big East play. Those fouls, never remedied despite personnel and purported strategy changes, damage the Hoyas in two ways: ensuing free throws gift points to the opponent while foul trouble takes playing time from the Hoyas’ best players. And yet the whistles keep blowing, game after game, year after year. By the time intermission rolled around, the Hoyas’ early lead had become a four-point deficit.
The turnovers and foul trouble were discouraging regressions from a team that stormed out of the gate in November with a new look. In routing USC-Upstate four months ago, Georgetown started the season by pressing, running, and attacking its way to a new-look, juiced-up rout in its season opener. Fan optimism in the wake of an off-season of promised introspection and innovation seemed to have paid off with Georgetown’s blowout win. But those new tactics were jettisoned against big-boy competition, seeming in retrospect to be more of a shot in the dark than a systemic overhaul.
After falling behind St. John’s Wednesday night, Georgetown would never lead again, despite a heroic effort by Peak. Having scored just a pair of points while playing limited first-half minutes because of the aforementioned foul trouble, Peak went off after the break, finishing with 24 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and a pair of steals. The junior swingman went at the basket time and again, finding points on drives, offensive rebounds, and on trips to the line.
The only blemishes on Peak’s stat line, other than the foul trouble, were his 5 missed free throws. Those bricks were all too typical for a Georgetown team that shot 56 percent from the line for the evening.
Still, Peak played with intensity down the stretch, as did the rest of the Hoyas. Emotions spilled over midway through the second half when LJ drove to the basket, drew a hard foul from Johnnie Amar Alibegovic. Benches emptied, including both teams’ coaches, with St. John’s head man Chris Mullin getting whistled for a technical foul. The floor-filling scrum riled up the crowd, setting the stage for the drama, but not the quality, of a classic Big East finish.
And with a big closing kick, Georgetown looked like it might just pull off a dramatic win. Pryor hit a fully extended jumper to pull the Hoyas within 4. Georgetown then buckled down, getting four straight stops, a rare stand for a defense that has proven leaky in the past several seasons. But the Hoyas couldn’t quite convert on offense. Three straight pairs of free throws resulted in just three points while just as many attempts yielded bricks.
Still, Georgetown still had a chance to win at the end, getting the ball down one with just under six seconds to play. Peak drove down the right wing, searching for the game-winner. But as he gathered to go up, Peak slipped, and the ball floated harmlessly toward the backboard. Derrickson grabbed the offensive rebound, gathering one last chance, but couldn’t convert the put-back as time expired.
Make no mistake. Despite numerous close games, almost all losses, this season was a failure. We all know that Georgetown suffered consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the pre-Thompson years. The Hoyas have declined as those seasons have worn on, finishing a combined 3-17 in February and March in the past two years. They’ve failed to field a top-25 team on either side of the ball since Otto Porter left campus, and show no signs of adapting to rule changes or evolving strategies.
Georgetown has to answer questions about the future of its program over the off-season. After tonight’s loss, Hoya coach John Thompson III refused to entertain those questions.
Thompson when asked about the season: "At this second, I'm worried about the young men in that room."— Voice Sports (@GUVoiceSports) March 9, 2017
Thompson: "After a loss like that right now, I don't think it's the time to do that [assess the state of the program]."— Voice Sports (@GUVoiceSports) March 9, 2017
The next few weeks should shed more light on what Georgetown plans for the year ahead, and beyond. What exactly can be expected of the Hoyas? How much better will a roster be that loses at least Pryor, and perhaps Peak as well? What can be expected tactically, from a coaching staff that appeared to dive into a run-and-gun style, only to abandon it as the season wore on? After two straight losing seasons and four years of stagnation, and with just two recruits coming in, can Georgetown really expect to achieve its standard of being “competitive on a national level” next season? And if not next year, when?