Just one day after losing in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Georgetown (3-2) rebounded to dismantle Kansas State (3-3) 90-63 and sneak out an 84-80 win over No. 10 Virginia Commonwealth (4-2) to close out the tournament on a strong note.
The Hoyas started out the weekend on a familiar note by dropping the opening game of a tournament to a much less talented team. Northeastern (2-4), a middling team in the Colonial Athletic Association, managed to outscore Georgetown by 18 points in the second half, and the Hoyas’ untimely turnovers down the stretch allowed the Huskies to take the game 63-56.
But less than 20 hours later, Georgetown responded by blowing out Kansas State, who had lost its first game to UNC Charlotte. The Hoyas featured four players who scored in double figures – all five starters except for senior forward Nate Lubick. Sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who was a bright spot all weekend for Georgetown, led the way with 25 points.
“I think, I hope, I pray that today is more indicative of who we are,” Head Coach John Thompson III said after the Kansas State game, according to Georgetown Sports Information.
And perhaps he’s right. Georgetown topped VCU – and avenged its 2011 NCAA tournament first-round loss to the eventual Final Four VCU team – in a closely contested battle. Senior guard Markel Starks and Smith-Rivera combined for 49 points, and junior center Joshua Smith added 17.
Georgetown picked up where it left off against Kansas State, jumping out to an 8-0 lead before VCU finally scored five minutes into the first half. But the Hoyas’ turnovers and fouls allowed the Rams to claw back into the game and go into halftime with a 30-29 lead.
After a back-and-forth start to the second half, Georgetown finally took hold of a 41-40 lead. In a matter of seconds, that lead turned into a seven-point deficit at the hands of two Georgetown turnovers, two VCU three-pointers and an easy layup for Rams’ senior guard Rob Brandenberg.
After Thompson called a timeout, the Hoyas settled down and methodically solved the Rams’ notoriously chaotic defense. Georgetown’s 26 turnovers were just one more than Florida State’s total in its win over VCU earlier in the tournament. While the turnovers were expected against a team like VCU, they are still indicative of a ball-handling problem beyond Starks and Smith-Rivera, who combined for 12 of the teams’ total turnovers.
With the win, Georgetown seemed to solve two of its other problems – free-throw shooting and three-point shooting – that have plagued the team this year. The Hoyas made 17-of-18 free throws down the stretch, helped mostly by Starks and Smith, who combined for 19-of-20 overall. The Hoyas also shot 55 percent from beyond the arc, led by a 5-of-6 performance from Smith-Rivera.
Georgetown gave up 14 offensive rebounds and allowed too many second-chance points. At times, the team seemed winded by VCU’s defensive pressure, which led to poor rebounding and decision-making. Junior guard Jabril Trawick and Lubick fouled out of the game, and Starks and junior forward Mikael Hopkins were knocking on the door with four apiece.
It is difficult to determine if Georgetown’s trip to Puerto Rico was a success. A close win over a top-10 team and a blowout win over Kansas State seem to suggest yes, but the loss to Northeastern and VCU’s recent struggles cannot be ignored.
Up next for the Hoyas is a string of home games against Lipscomb Nov. 30, High Point Dec. 5, Colgate Dec. 7 and Elon Dec. 17 before making the trip to Lawrence, Kansas Dec. 21 to take on the No. 2 Kansas Jayhawks. This next stretch will be an important one for the team.