Georgetown played abysmally for much of Wednesday night and still almost pulled out the win, ultimately falling 74-73 to visiting DePaul. The Hoyas fell behind by double digits in each half, playing porous defense and shooting ice-cold from beyond the arc. A small-ball lineup adjustment and some hot outside shooting, led by Marcus Derrickson’s 23 points and Jamorko Pickett’s career-high 19, erased the Blue Demons’ lead. But it wasn’t enough, as a late, contested Eli Cain jumper secured victory for DePaul.
There wasn’t much to like about the first half for Georgetown. Having been devoured by the Hoyas’ bigs in the teams’ first match-up, DePaul resolved not to let history repeat itself. Instead, the Blue Demons doubled the post aggressively, forcing Jessie Govan and Derickson to kick the ball back out or retreat into a DePaul trap. After an early timeout, Govan adjusted, pinging the ball to Hoya cutters on a couple of possessions. But for the most part, DePaul’s aggressive interior defense forced the Georgetown to take jump shots.
Early on, the Hoyas didn’t make those shots, converting just 1 of their first 13 three-pointers. Many of these hoists were open and in rhythm, but they just weren’t falling. Georgetown found occasional offense in transition, but also went cold for long stretches. In one particularly brutal five-minute stretch, the Hoyas managed just a Govan jumper.
At the same time, DePaul was firing on all cylinders in a way that the Blue Demons could not muster in the first match-up. While Georgetown was scuffling through its dry spell, Cain and Max Strus hit consecutive threes that sparked a 15-2 run to put the visitors up 12. After a brief inspired Hoya run before the half narrowed the deficit, Cain and Strus repeated their feat, hitting consecutive 3s (Cain having lined up his shot since approximately before the government shutdown; Strus somehow banking home his triple, leading to the miserable FS1 crew giving him credit for the bank) to kick off another 15-point spurt to push the lead back to 12.
To his credit, Coach Ewing made an adjustment. With Govan both ineffective and uninspired, Ewing benched his junior center, sliding Derrickson over to the five and creating a five-out offense that neutralized DePaul’s aggressive interior play. Jagan Mosely assisted Derrickson on consecutive three-pointers to pull the Hoyas within 8, the latter on a high pick-and-pop that Georgetown ran to good effect for the rest of the game. A DePaul miss allowed Mosely to find Pickett in transition for a corner three that cut the deficit to five. Georgetown was back in it.
With the Hoyas hitting shots from deep, the lane suddenly was open and Jiggy took advantage. Mosely drove for consecutive baskets, and a Derrickson triple, again off a feed from Mosely, put Georgetown up for the first time since midway through the first half.
Alas, the Blue Demons didn’t go away. Cain kept raining fire, hitting a jumper to tie the game. After connecting on just 3 of 11 shots when these teams squared off in Chicago, and entering Wednesday night’s match-up shooting just 27 percent from deep, the junior guard hit 10 of his 15 shots and 5 of 8 from beyond the arc. To some degree, DePaul was moving the ball better, getting Cain the rock on the move to free him up. But he also was just feeling it, hitting a step-back contested three in the game’s final minutes to give DePaul a two-point lead.
To their credit, Georgetown kept battling as well. Having fully exploited the Mosely/Derrickson pick-and-pop, Ewing threw in a wrinkle, having Kaleb Johnson set the screen for Mosely, pop up to the top of the key, and then feed Derrickson, who had set up shop in the post and earned a trip to the line for two. After a pair of dubious foul calls put DePaul back up two, Derrickson again posted up, this time on an overmatched Cain, and again earned a pair of free throws that he buried. Two energy plays — a DePaul steal and a put-back to put the Blue Demons up two — set up a dramatic final minute.
Again moving around his chess pieces, Ewing subbed in Govan, who hadn’t seen action since early in the second half. With attention drawn to the big fella down low, Mosely found a suddenly neglected Derrickson deep on the right wing. Doc rose and fired, burying his fourth and final three-pointer to give Georgetown the lead. But, after a Strus miss gave DePaul the ball out of bounds, Cain, again the villain, buried the last of his game-high 27 points on a contested jumper with 7 seconds left. Mosely’s desperate runner as time expired didn’t fall, and DePaul escaped with the win.
Tonight felt consequential, and not just in a home-loss-to-DePaul sort of way. Lineups with Derrickson and without Govan, as resident Xs and Os wizard Nolan broke down, have been far more successful than other permutations, and Wednesday night was a stark example. With Derrickson at the five, Georgetown’s otherwise anemic guard play gets a bump from spacing that a two-big lineup doesn’t provide. Opposing defenders have to respect Derrickson’s shooting, allowing the occasional dribble-drive by Mosely or even by Derrickson who, finding himself guarded closely beyond the arc, by DePaul’s slow-footed center, put the ball on the deck and got all the way to the rim for a lay-in.
Also in the lineup category, Mosely played his second straight effective game as the lead guard, managing 10 points and 5 assists after 12 and 7 against St. John’s on Saturday. Georgetown’s guard rotation is the worst in the conference, but Mosely may be emerging as the best lead-guard option as Jonathan Mulmore and Trey Dickerson continue to look overmatched against Big East competition.
Finally, after weeks of ineffective play, Pickett turned in his second straight stellar performance. The freshman broke his career scoring high for the second consecutive game, but also was active on the glass again, grabbing 8 rebounds. Much of Pickett’s game still has yet to develop — his ball-handling still vaguely resembles Bambi on ice, and he has good passing instincts but not always execution — but one can see the development of a 3-and-D wing who, along with Kaleb Johnson and the occasional Antwan Walker appearance, can man the forward rotation when Derrickson plays the five.
Of course, a loss to DePaul raises questions. One is, how many positive lessons can be drawn from a home split against St. John’s and DePaul? It’s nice to see Derrickson, Pickett, Mosely, and to a lesser extent Jahvon Blair contributing positively against the rest of the league’s bottom tier. Can they replicate that output on the road against the league’s stronger teams?
Also, how long will Ewing continue with lineups that clearly don’t work? Mulmore as the starting point guard might be reaching its breaking point, as he has become almost invisible offensively, although he remains fairly sturdy on defense. Trey Dickerson has been bad on both ends. Will Mosely start, or anyway play the bulk of the lead guard minutes, with Mulmore filling in the rest of the time?
Finally, wither Jessie Govan? The junior big man looked like a man reinvented a the beginning of the season, feasting on undersized competition by dominating the glass and the post with previously unseen ferocity. Against like-sized Big East foes, Govan has regressed, stepping out to the perimeter more often and converting less effectively. He’s made more than half of his shots just once in conference play and, after posting 4 double-doubles in his first 5 Big East games, has gone empty in his last 4, including a listless 5 points and 5 rebounds against DePaul.
We’ll see. For now, the Hoyas have to digest a loss that is unquestionably disappointing, if not exactly soul-crushing. The defeat drops Georgetown to 13-7 and 3-6 in league play and leaves the Hoyas with uncertain prospects of securing more wins as the schedule gets more difficult. Next, the Hoyas travel to Creighton, then Xavier, then Providence a series of three road tests in which Georgetown will be heavy underdogs. It’s not reasonable to expect wins in any of those games, but tonight showed that even defeat can offer the opportunity for growth.