Expectations were high for Isaac Copeland when the freshman forward arrived on the Hilltop last summer. The North Carolina native was the highest-rated member of a top-10 recruiting class, so it surprised some fans when Copeland struggled to carve out a consistent role in Georgetown’s rotation through the first half of the season. For Head Coach John Thompson III, however, there was little cause for alarm.
“I think Isaac is having what I would label a normal freshman year,” Thompson said earlier in the week. “There have been ups and downs, goods and bads.”
Saturday afternoon’s game against Butler was one of the “ups.”
With under 10 seconds in the second half and the Hoyas trailing 58-59, Copeland floated to the left corner of the court where senior guard Jabril Trawick hit him with a pass as Trawick dribbled away from a screen set by senior center Joshua Smith. Relatively unguarded, Copeland smoothly caught the ball and nailed a three-pointer to give the Hoyas a two-point lead.
Copeland, who is averaging only 4.1 points per game, may have seen like an unlikely candidate to take the game winning shot, but for Trawick, the decision to dish the ball was easy.
“Coach always says one of our mottos is to trust each other,” Trawick said. “So I snapped it to [Copeland] and he made a big play for us.”
One defensive stop later, Georgetown (12-5, 4-2 Big East) emerged with a 61-59 victory over Butler (13-6, 3-3 Big East).
A late-afternoon start against a quality opponent produced the largest crowd Verizon Center has seen so far this season. However, a hot-shooting start from Butler kept the Georgetown faithful in their seats for much of the first 20 minutes.
Junior guard Kellen Dunham and junior forward Roosevelt Jones led the Bulldogs early on. The two scored 20 of Butler’s first 24 points, helping the Bulldogs race out to a 27-15 lead with 3:33 to play in the first half.
Dunham, Butler’s leading scorer, was especially lethal during the opening 15 minutes of the game. The crafty guard was able to repeatedly shake his defender and get into the lane, drawing fouls and knocking down shots. With 7:30 remaining in the first half, Dunham had already scored 13 points and appeared to be on his way to a monstrous afternoon.
Needing an answer, Thompson assigned senior forward Aaron Bowen to guard Dunham. After the game, the box score credited Bowen with only three points, an assist and a block, but in reality, he contributed so much more. After his quick start, Dunham would not score for the rest of the game and did not attempt a field goal the entire second half.
Unfortunately for the Hoyas, the disappearance of Dunham coincided with the disappearance of Georgetown’s shooting. From 10:40 to 1:44 in the first half, the Hoyas went without a field goal, missing 11 straight attempts.
Senior forward Mikael Hopkins finally ended the drought with a tip-in that sparked an 8-2 Georgetown run to end the half and trim Butler’s lead to 31-27.
The halftime break did not quell Georgetown’s newfound energy. Trawick in particular seemed to emerge from the locker room with a chip on his shoulder. The senior repeatedly looked to take the ball to the rim in the opening minutes of the second period, tallying six points and an assist and helping the Hoyas to take a 37-36 lead — their first advantage since 4-2 in the opening minutes of the game.
“That was one of [Jabril’s] better games at both ends of the court,” Thompson said. “He provided a lot of energy today at the defensive end and at the offensive end.”
From there, the game turned into a stereotypical Big East slugfest. Georgetown opened up a 46-40 lead, but Butler clawed back to take a 51-50 advantage.
Jones was nearly unstoppable for the Bulldogs in the second half. In the absence of Dunham, the junior forward took over, repeatedly getting to basket and converting on 7-of-12 second half shots to finish with 28 points.
“You can sit and talk over and over again about how Jones is not an outside shooter, but you still can’t stop him,” Thompson said.
In the end however, Jones’ herculean effort would not be enough. Trawick picked the junior’s pocket for a crucial steal with 50 seconds remaining and Butler ahead 57-56. Although Jones was able to take back the lead for the Bulldogs with 12 seconds left following junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s jumper, his game-tying layup attempt was blocked at the rim by Smith-Rivera in the game’s final second.
Smith-Rivera led one of the more balanced offensive efforts of the season for the Hoyas. The junior finished with 14 points and was joined in double digits by Copeland, Trawick and Smith, who all pitched in 10 points.
Georgetown will have little time to savor its hard earned victory. No. 5 Villanova (17-1, 4-1 Big East) will visit Verizon Center Monday night. Although the Wildcats are the consensus favorite to win the Big East and will also provide the Hoyas with an opportunity for a marquee victory, which has hitherto proved elusive from Georgetown’s NCAA Tournament resume.