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Georgetown Hangs Close, Falls at Creighton, 85-77

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Hoyas fight back to a one-possession game but can’t close it out on the road.

NCAA Basketball: Georgetown at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Georgetown had the ball with a chance to take the lead with just 3 minutes to play at Creighton. The Hoyas had battled back from a 16-point deficit, shoring up a defense that had leaked too often against the Bluejays during a blowout loss in Washington, and eking out just enough offense to claw their way closer. But a casual turnover led to a Creighton three-point play, and the Hoyas never threatened again, eventually succumbing, 85-77.

This game was both frustrating and heartening. Frustrating, as Creighton went on a 16-0 run to end the first half, which Georgetown was powerless to contain. The Hoyas didn’t score for the last four minutes before intermission and failed to stop the ball as the Bluejays poured in points in transition. On the other hand, Georgetown punched above its weight for the remaining 36 points of the game, outscoring Creighton during those minutes (admittedly, a big “except”) and playing some of its best basketball on both ends since conference play began. And there were plenty of positive nuggets, like a breakout performance from Jahvon Blair (a career-high 21 points), an otherwise balanced performance, and a patient, determined comeback that ultimately fell short. Ultimately, that wasn’t enough to win, but perhaps enough to build on.

Coming off a disappointing if not earth-ending home loss to DePaul this week, this game had all the elements of a blowout. A long road trip. A superior opponent that plays a difficult, five-out style for Georgetown’s two-big starting lineup. A lively, capacity home crowd.

But Georgetown didn’t back down from the challenge. The Hoyas came out firing Saturday night, keeping pace with the Bluejays for the game’s first 16 minutes. Blair, the quick-trigger freshman guard, hit a pair of threes to erase an early Bluejay lead then, a couple of minutes later, buried a third triple to put the Hoyas up 5. In between, almost every other Hoya got involved, whether it as Jagan Mosely knifing into the lane for a pair of runners, or Jonathan Mulmore taking up the Creighton defense’s dare and burying a three-pointer of his own.

But it wouldn’t last. Creighton’s offense is too polished, too efficient, too probing of opponents’ weaknesses to lay dormant for long. As Georgetown’s offense began to sputter, Creighton’s two main guns, Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, got going. These two guards grabbed Georgetown misses and sniffed out opporutinities in transition, rising, firing, and converting all but 2 of the points in Creighton’s 16-0 run to end the half.

The Bluejays’ lead grew to 16 points in the second half, but, as in a recent loss at Seton Hall, the Hoyas didn’t let a likely loss turn into a blowout. Instead, they locked in on defense and chipped away on offense. Creighton went without a field goal for more than five minutes, missing four shots from field and committing three turnovers over a span that saw the lead cut in half, to 8. At the same time, the Hoyas found the points that Creighton gave them, with a Kaleb Johnson or Trey Dickerson drive here, a Marcus Derrickson or Blair trip to the line there.

Back within single digits, the Hoyas leaned on two sources of offense to bring them home: Derrickson and threes. Doc, the less heralded of two junior big men early in the year, has lately claimed the spotlight that previously shone on junior center Jessie Govan (7 points on 2-of-8 at Creighton), who has struggled of late against like-sized competition. Derrickson, by contrast, has thrived in recent weeks, pulling slower centers out to the perimeter while beating smaller forwards down low. In Omaha, Derrickson offered more of the same: although he failed to connect on either of his three-point attempts, he found points by squaring up on and driving against slower-footed (that’s saying something) Creighton defenders.

As for the threes, the Hoyas converted 42 percent of their attempts, an unsustainable rate but one that kept them close enough in Omaha. Pickett came off a screen to hit a triple to narrow the gap to five. When Foster countered, Blair hit a trey of his own. A Derrickson face-up J made it just four, and, after a stop a Jonathan Mulmore three — fully considered, reflected upon, with knees bent, votives lit, and Creighton’s dare to shoot answered — found net to make it a one-point game. Toby Hegner and Blair traded threes to keep the margin at a point and, after a stop, the Hoyas had a chance to take the lead. But the aforementioned turnover begat a Thomas three-point play that turned the tide.

There was so much good to take away from this game. Even on a modest 40 percent shooting, Blair notched a career high in points, showing a fearlessness and nose for the bucket that’s been evident since day one. Part of playing freshmen in the clutch is living with the freshmen mistakes: Blair’s careless pass that landed in Thomas’s hands pretty much ended any hopes of a comeback, but the hope is that those mistakes will pay dividends in seasons to come when he and Pickett (9 points, 6 assists) evolve into more complete, consistent players.

Derrickson continues to be a joy, managing 17 points on play that is both crafty and gritty. As a team, Georgetown did a good job of finding the open man, and of exploiting those chances, assisting on 17 of 25 made baskets, with six Hoyas scoring at least 6 points.

Ewing continues to prove himself adaptable. Georgetown generally has found open shots on offense, springing guys free in the post and beyond the arc. Georgetown’s solid shooting mark from three was to some degree just hot hands, but also was a matter of converting open looks that Ewing helped script. He’s also run with the guys who have played well, running with Derrickson at center or with Jagan Mosely as the lead guard in less conventional lineups.

As with any loss, there were downsides as well. Govan continues to struggle in conference play. His mid-range and face-up jumpers still fall but, for want of strength or of moves, Govan struggles to overpower his opponents in the post.

Also in the negative column was Mosely who, after a string of solid recent play, sprained his ankle on a drive to the hoop. With Mosely emerging as perhaps the Hoyas’ best two-way guard, an extended injury would prove taxing to an already thin Hoyas guard rotation.

These incremental analyses — a player or two up, another pair down — are difficult when the result is rarely in doubt. But, as with the more disappointing defeat to DePaul earlier this week, tonight proves that these Hoyas continue to fight.