When Head Coach John Thompson III and the Georgetown men’s basketball team (14-5, 6-2 Big East) welcomed in 2015 and began Big East play on New Year’s Eve, the team turned in its worst performance of the season — Georgetown had a humbling 70-53 loss to Xavier, forcing the Hoyas to tumble out of the top 25 after earning the rank just two days earlier.

Now, No. 21 Georgetown has won six of its past seven games ahead of Tuesday’s rematch with the Musketeers at Verizon Center. On Monday, the Hoyas climbed back into the national rankings for the first time since the blowout in Cincinnati on Dec. 31.

FILE PHOTO: JULIA HENNRIKUS/THE HOYA  Senior center Joshua Smith set new career highs with 15 rebounds and 31 minutes played against Marquette on Saturday.
Senior center Joshua Smith set new career highs with 15 rebounds and 31 minutes played against Marquette on Saturday.

“Early on in the season we were ranked also, so when we get a second crack at it, hopefully we can get it done,” junior guard and co-captain D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera said. “It’s always redemption when you lose early in the season and you get a second crack at a team.”

While Georgetown comes into the game riding a four-game winning streak, Xavier’s road woes have prevented them from establishing consistency so far this season. In Big East play, Xavier has been dominant at home, winning each of its four games by an average of more than 11 points. On the road, however, the Musketeers have lost all four of their conference games. Xavier’s offense runs through 6-foot-10, 270-pound center Matt Stainbrook who leads the Musketeers with 12.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

“He’s probably one of the few guys that I could say is close to my physique in the country. He’s a big dude, and for me to say that means a lot,” said the Hoyas’ 6-foot-10, 350-pound center Joshua Smith, who scored 15 point in Saturday’s overtime win against Marquette.

Smith’s 15-rebound performance in 31 minutes set new rebound and minute career-highs for the big man.
“I feel a lot different than I did last year,” Smith said. “After I found out I played 31 minutes I was like, ‘wow.’ I can’t remember the last time I played 31 minutes going back to high school or middle school.”

Since the loss to Xavier in the first Big East game of the season, Georgetown has evolved into a more cohesive unit, with nine players who could lead them in scoring on any given night. Still, Thompson remains a cautious optimist when it comes to his team’s development.

“The good thing about this team is that we’re getting better. We have not arrived yet, we still have room for growth in all areas,” said Thompson.

Thompson alluded to the team atmosphere and camaraderie as key components of the way the team plays and progresses together.

“This might sound like a small thing, but the guys like each other. There is a sense of selflessness in that — ‘I’m just as happy for you if you’re scoring,’” Thompson said.

One of the biggest reasons for the Hoyas’ consistent winning results over the past month has been the emergence of freshman Isaac Copeland. The 6-foot-9-inch forward from Raleigh, N.C., was named Big East Rookie of the week on Monday after averaging 17 points and six rebounds in wins over Villanova and Marquette. Copeland only had two points in seven minutes in the Hoyas’ previous loss to Xavier, but the freshman has since established himself as a valuable contributor on both ends of the floor while navigating the difficult transition from high school to the college basketball — particularly with the level of talent in the Big East.

“More importantly than the scoring, the energy that [Copeland] brings on the boards and the defensive end we need,” Thompson said. “I knew that at some point the clouds were going to open up for him. He’s been stumbling while thinking, now he’s just playing. It happens sooner for others, but it’s happened to him, and now he’s just out there playing.”

As was the case in the second half on Saturday, Georgetown’s depth will be put to the test. Senior guard and co-captain Jabril Trawick (thigh) and freshman forward L.J. Peak (ankle), both regular members of the Hoyas’ starting lineup, may be unable to play against Xavier.

“I’m not sure if either one of them are going to play, they didn’t practice yesterday,” Thompson said after Monday’s practice. “Neither one of them are out for any significant period of time, but they might be out tomorrow.”

The matchup between Xavier and Georgetown will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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