Sometimes, being stuck at home is a good thing. Four days after returning, exhausted, from a road trip and getting pounded by a revenge-minded Creighton team, Georgetown paid it forward, rolling over a disoriented, punchless Butler squad, 78-63. The Hoyas weren’t exactly firing on all cylinders, committing a ghastly 22 turnovers, but stayed hot from the perimeter and forced the action inside to keep the margin beyond reach.
This season has mixed inconsistent on-court product with grim news off of it. Against that backdrop, Saturday felt oddly normal, even casual. Georgetown built an early lead and, unlike early in the season, held it. The Hoyas largely played with purpose if not always with precision. And bookended around halftime, Georgetown celebrated a couple of milestones as seniors Jahvon Blair and Jamorko Pickett reached 1,000 career points within minutes of each other. In retrospect, the double-digit victory was foretold from the first media timeout, a strangely predictable result in a season that’s been anything but.
The foreseeable outcome was even weirder when looking at the strange alchemy of the Hoya attack. Georgetown’s offense was a bewildering mix of sloppy ball-handling and hot shooting. The Hoyas failed to draw iron on their first five possessions as they turned the ball over twice and their first three shots were badly off. Add in a couple of defensive breakdowns, and Patrick Ewing called a quick, frustrated timeout.
But Georgetown quickly found the juice it needed in the form of Butler’s own inept offense. The visiting Bulldogs gave the ball away on three straight possessions, and each turnover begat a transition Hoya triple. On the first two, Blair set up Dante Harris with a beautiful cross-court zinger and Pickett with a pitch that created space for his classmate’s jumper. Then, Harris returned the favor, pitching it to Blair for an open 3 to make it 11-4.
That more or less set the tone for the rest of the day. Here or there, Georgetown would give the ball away on consecutive possessions, resuscitating a Butler offense that otherwise struggled to put the ball in the basket. But even those miscues caused limited damage, as the 22 Hoya turnovers yielded just 14 Butler points.
And Georgetown’s pace and ball movement, however un-crisp, was enough to generate one open three after another. Five different Hoyas hit a three-pointer, and the team made half of its 22 tries from beyond the arc. When Butler seemed to be narrowing the deficit before intermission, Donald Carey and Blair hit consecutive threes to push the halftime lead up to 16. The latter triple put Blair at 1,000 points for his career, a testament to the gradual improvement, year over year, of one of Ewing’s first recruits, despite roster turnover and as much losing as winning.
In the second half, Georgetown briefly pushed the lead even further, as Chudier Bile and Pickett both hit three-pointers to extend the Hoya lead to 22. Morko’s three also put him at 1,000 career points, becoming the 49th Hoya to hit that total, just after his classmate. Picket has never achieved the great heights that his frame and tantalizing fluidity seemed to promise, but nevertheless has compiled an admirable career, brick-by-brick, as a defender, rebounder, and, as today proved, a scorer.
But then Georgetown took its foot off the gas, as the Hoyas’ chief opponent seemed to be not Butler but boredom. Pickett and Blair both picked up ornery technical fouls. Five Hoya turnovers in six possessions, and inattention on the defensive end, helped Butler inch within 14. After Georgetown again pulled away, the Blair technical, followed by a Bulldog 3, made the deficit 13.
And yet, the outcome never really was in question. A Bulldog team accustomed to a snail’s pace showed the stress of trying a sped-up comeback, committing a ton of fouls, resulting in a parade to the line, as Georgetown proved the adage that if you make more free throws than your opponent tries (15-18 versus 8-9), you’ll usually win. Meanwhile, Blair and Harris, when they held onto the ball, found seams for themselves and their teammates.
The final box score reflects a balanced effort. Blair and Bile led all scorers with 17 points apiece, while Pickett, Wahab, Carey, and Harris all chipped in at least 9. Each has turned into a nice piece when everything is clicking: Blair drilling from deep; Harris a blur with the ball and a pest when guarding it; Wahab punishing inside on both ends; Bile bringing energy, for good and ill; Carey providing the occasional shotmaking; and Pickett contributing in a dozen different ways.
The main hole remains the lack of point guard play. In happier times, a best-case Jalen Harris might have filled that slot, and maybe Dante will a year or so from now. But without an adept organizer of the offense, too many possessions end with an entry pass gone awry, or the ball kicked out of bounds. The Hoyas were willing passers today, assisting on 16 of 24 made baskets, but the cost of all those lost possessions, against an even average opposing offense, would have been high.
In light of that flaw, Georgetown has done well to win the bulk of its games since restarting. The Hoyas have not given up on a season that easily could have been lost — a commonality with last season, albeit for very different reasons. With a week off before a final five-game stretch to finish the regular season, Georgetown can continue to fight, and build. Today gives some measure of confidence that the Hoyas will do so.