FILE PHOTO: JULIA HENNRIKUS/THE HOYA Freshman forward Isaac Copeland led Georgetown's second-half comeback attempt as he scored 11 of his 15 points in the final eight minutes of the game.
Freshman forward Isaac Copeland led Georgetown’s second-half comeback attempt as he scored 11 of his 15 points in the final eight minutes of the game.

With just under eight minutes remaining in Friday night’s Big East semifinal, the Xavier men’s basketball team held a commanding 53-33 lead. Until this point, senior center Matt Stainbrook had dominated the game with 19 points and nine rebounds as the Musketeers and their fans enjoyed a comfortable blowout.

Then, Georgetown decided to make a game of it.

From the 7:53 mark until the final whistle, the No. 23 Hoyas (21-10, 12-6 Big East) pressed, shot and willed their way back within the grasp of victory before ultimately falling to the Musketeers (21-12, 9-9 Big East) 65-63.

Freshman forward Isaac Copeland led Georgetown’s comeback attempt, scoring 11 of his 15 points in the final 7:36.

“I think this comeback shows how close we are as a unit and how deep of a team we are,” Copeland said. “It’s not easy to come back from down 20 like we were. It shows we have a lot of heart.”

In the early going, the low-post presence of senior Joshua Smith enabled Georgetown to take the game to a sluggish Xavier team that needed overtime to beat Butler in Thursday’s nightcap. A three-point play with 10:34 left in the first half gave Smith 10 points and the Hoyas a 19-11 lead.

The Hoyas’ momentum was cut short when Smith picked up his third foul with 7:30 to play, which prompted the Musketeers to start firing at will. Smith, who only played 17 minutes of the game, finished the game with those 10 points.

Xavier embarked on an 18-4 run to end the half and continued its dominance at the start of the second period. By the time senior guard Jabril Trawick scored a layup for Georgetown’s first field goal of the half with 12:26 to play, Xavier’s nine-point halftime advantage had ballooned to 49-30.

Georgetown junior guard, co-captain and leading scorer D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who carried Georgetown with 25 points against Creighton on Thursday night, struggled offensively against Xavier. Smith-Rivera shot 3-of-9 from the field and finished with 11 points.

Stainbrook, who averaged 10 points in Xavier’s two previous meetings with Georgetown, finished with a game-high 20 points, 19 of which came before the final eight minutes.

“Stopping him [Stainbrook] is difficult just because he’s so poised,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “He poses problems, not just because of his size, not just his skill level, but also his IQ.”

For much of the game, Georgetown looked lost against Xavier’s 1-3-1 zone defense, and it was not until Copeland asserted himself at the high post and Trawick started to attack the rim that the Hoyas began to find some cracks.

Following a Xavier technical, Copeland and Trawick were the only Hoyas to score on a 16-6 run that brought Georgetown within five at 59-54 with 1:30 left to play.

“We were being too stagnant,” Trawick said. “I just wanted to be aggressive and try to get to the cup, get to the line, just find some way to put points on the board.”

Xavier’s poor free throw shooting enabled Georgetown’s comeback, as the Musketeers misfired on 10 of their 24 second-half attempts. Still, Xavier did enough to ensure that Georgetown never had the ball and a chance to take the lead with a three-pointer down the stretch.

Georgetown was closest to winning the game with two seconds remaining and Trawick at the line. The Hoyas were down by three points and Trawick was expected to miss the second of two free throws. The senior sank the first to cut Xavier’s lead to 64-62. As senior forward Mikael Hopkins and Copeland dug in and prepared to attack the rim for a put-back that would tie the game, Trawick’s second free throw ripped the nylon. Xavier successfully inbounded the ball, and the Hoyas were done.

The free throw gave Trawick a career-high 19 points, but it proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Georgetown’s comeback.

“I was trying to miss it,” Trawick said.

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