A furious rally almost erased a 21-point lead for the Georgetown men’s basketball team (4-3) against Syracuse (6-2). At the game’s end, the Jim Boeheim-less Orange instituted a full-court press, trapping the Hoyas and forcing four turnovers in the final two minutes of game time.
“They were moving fast. They were covering a lot of ground. I felt like as soon as I caught the ball, everyone was just all over the place,” senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera said.
But the Hoyas, who at one point saw their 21-point lead shrink to seven points, managed to hold off the Orange and held on to win 79-72.
“[The full-court press] worked, we were able to cut it close; we just couldn’t get that one more stop or make that one more shot,” Syracuse Assistant Coach Michael Hopkins, who replaces Boeheim while the head coach serves his nine-game suspension, said.
Fortunately, the Hoyas had the support of a 21-point lead. Against the Orange’s famed two-three zone — which had allowed 96 points per 100 possessions, good for 25th in the nation — the Hoyas scored 120 points per 100 possessions.
Moreover, the Hoyas shot 54 percent on 31 attempts inside the three-point line against the Orange, a team that had one of the best interior defenses in the nation, holding opponents to just 45 percent shooting inside the arc.
Crucial ball movement helped senior center Bradley Hayes post his career high of 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, almost exclusively inside the paint. In addition to Hayes carrying an increased scoring load, the Hoyas rolled out a new perimeter-oriented lineup in the wake of sophomore guard L.J. Peak’s foul troubles.
Smith-Rivera, sophomore guard Tre Campbell and junior forward Reggie Cameron created space on the perimeter for the Hoyas and excelled at moving the ball. Along with freshman center Jessie Govan and one of two sophomore forwards, either Isaac Copeland or Paul White, these five-man units outscored the Orange by seven points over the duration of the game. Besides the team’s starting five of Copeland, Hayes, Peak, Smith-Rivera and freshman forward Marcus Derrickson, the three-headed, perimeter-oriented unit tallied the highest plus/minus of any Georgetown lineup.
Beyond just outscoring Syracuse, the trio of Smith-Rivera, Campbell and Cameron moved the ball and created many open three-point looks for Copeland and Cameron. Campbell and Smith-Rivera swung the ball between the two of them before passing to Cameron on the wing. With a pump fake, the defender bit and Cameron either stepped through for an easy midrange jumper, or, if a defender from the corner rotated onto the sharpshooter, passed out to an open Copeland.
A necessary departure from the man-to-man-based Princeton offense, the Hoyas played smart offense against the two-three zone, which allowed them to capitalize on the slow rotations that unavoidably mar Boeheim’s famed defensive scheme.
On the other side of the ball, Georgetown’s defense slowed down senior guard Trevor Cooney and freshman forward Tyler Lydon, who were averaging 14.9 and 10.8 points per game on the season, respectively. Combining to shoot a mere 4-of-12 from beyond the three-point line, two of Syracuse’s three best shooters — the other being senior guard Michael Gbinije, who finished with 23 points — had little impact on the game outside of fouling, with Cooney picking up four fouls and Lydon committing three.
A team known for its limited yet purposeful depth, the Orange were forced out of their comfort zones and made to play a very physical game.
“We stayed in attack mode. We wanted to be aggressive, very, very aggressive, without being selfish,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said. “I thought our guys did that. We wanted to keep coming at them.”
An aggressive and ferocious mentality on both ends gave the Hoyas bragging rights with a much-needed victory over their rival but also gave them the team’s first victory over a ranked team this season. In a heated game, White and freshman guard/forward Kaleb Johnson played fewer than 10 minutes combined. As the team moves into an easier part of its schedule, the rotations that Thompson employs will likely solidify, and while the games are fluid and the Hoyas are adaptable, Georgetown’s overall versatility and depth will mean more inconsistent minutes for some of the team’s talented players.
Paolo Santamaria is a sophomore in the College.