Clinging to a two-point lead with less than three minutes to play, the Kansas offense broke down as it had all night. Sophomore guard Wayne Selden Jr. attacked the lane, but he looked unsure of exactly what to do with the ball.
However, lost in the confusion of Kansas’ offense was sophomore guard Brannen Greene, the lanky swingman who came off the bench for the Jayhawks. Greene drifted to an abandoned corner of the court where he caught Selden Jr.’s pass. As Greene released his shot, the crowd grew silent. Every fan in the arena knew that Greene had not missed from three-point land all night, and this shot was no different.
“That’s what I do — I shoot the ball. I found myself wide open, just took my time and knocked it down,” Greene said. “I loved that three, honestly — that was a big three. I enjoyed it.”
Greene finished the night 5-of-5 from beyond the arc and 4-of-4 from the free throw line to lead visiting No. 10 Kansas (7-1) with 19 points in a tough 75-70 win over Georgetown (5-3).
“[Greene] did what he does. He’s a terrific shooter. Especially after he hits one or two you have to stay with him, and I think we had some defensive mix-ups,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “This isn’t taking anything away from him, but I don’t think he did anything different from what he’s been doing. If you give that kid an open shot, it’s going to go in. We gave him too many open looks at the wrong times.”
The play was typical of Kansas’ offense, which emphasizes the importance of driving the ball into the paint in order to draw the defense away from other players.
“Our whole deal is to drive to pass. If you drive to pass, [the open shot is] going to be there,” said Kansas Head Coach Bill Self. “When Greene made his last three, that was a big play off of that.”
While the result was heartbreaking for Georgetown fans, the Hoyas were sure to make national headlines regardless of the game’s outcome. Prior to tipoff, the Georgetown players reached a consensus to wear black T-shirts during warm-ups with the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” printed on the front, referencing the death of Eric Garner.
Although the Hoyas ultimately lost the game, their defensive prowess and size advantage gave them the opportunity to keep up with their opponent. It was clear in the opening minutes of the game that the Jayhawks would struggle to create offense in a lane crowded by Georgetown’s senior frontline of center Joshua Smith and forward Mikael Hopkins. Junior Perry Ellis, the Jayhawks’ leading scorer on the season with 14.6 points per game, was frequently frustrated in the early goings of the game, ultimately finishing the night shooting an abysmal 4-of-15 from the field.
The Jayhawks long-range shooting, however, was more than able to compensate for a lack of an interior presence. Kansas, which finished the night 10-of-17 from beyond the arc, threatened to run the Hoyas out of the gym before halftime.
After falling behind 29-19 with five minutes left in the first half, Georgetown put together nine straight defensive stops to regain the lead. The Hoyas, who had not led in the game since their early 2-0 advantage, went on an 11-0 run to take a 30-29 lead with 1:47 to play in the first half. Freshman forward L.J. Peak, who finished with 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting, scored five points during the stretch to provide a much-needed spark on a night where junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown’s top scorer this season, could never find an offensive rhythm.
Smith-Rivera, who leads the Hoyas in scoring with 13.9 points per game, ended the night 3-of-15 from the field and 0-of-5 from distance.
“I [was] missing shots that I normally make [and] rushing a few shots that I should have taken my time with — it wasn’t anything necessarily defensively,” Smith-Rivera said. “[There were] just a lot of shots that didn’t go in for me today.”
Despite the uncharacteristically poor shooting night, Smith-Rivera finished the game with a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds.
When asked if he could think of any positive notes to take away from the loss to Kansas, Thompson replied that he was not sure there were any.
Nevertheless, there were surely uplifting signs to be seen from the Hoyas, even after their tough defeat. Aside from Peak’s riveting performance in his first high-profile home game, Smith had his best performance of the season. Smith fought off vicious double- and triple-teams to finish with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting and five rebounds. He played 27 minutes in the game, which is over four minutes longer than his season average.
“[Smith is] a load — even our guys said, ‘We knew he was big but we had no idea.’ It’s hard to simulate how big he is until you actually guard him,” Kansas Head Coach Bill Self said. “We got lucky tonight that Smith-Rivera didn’t make shots. They’re well-coached and well-drilled — I’m sure Georgetown will be right in the middle of it in the Big East.”
The game was the second of four home-and-home series between Georgetown and Kansas. After Wednesday night’s game, Kansas has won the first two games of the series.