FILE PHOTO:  MICHELLE XU/THE HOYA Senior center Joshua Smith finished with 10 points and four rebounds. Smith is averaging 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game this season.
Senior center Joshua Smith finished with 10 points and four rebounds. Smith is averaging 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game this season.

As senior center Joshua Smith stood at the line shooting the second of two free throws with 3:54 remaining in Wednesday night’s game between No. 25 Georgetown (8-4, 0-1 Big East) and Xavier (10-3, 1-0 Big East), spectators at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio cheered and turned to hug their neighbors as the final seconds of 2014 ticked off the clock. Memorable as the beginning of 2015 may have been, the Hoyas will likely try to forget the night’s uninspiring performance in which they never led and ultimately fell to the Musketeers by a final score of 70-53.

Although highly touted for its offensive prowess coming into the game, Xavier made it clear from the opening tip that the team had come to play on the defensive end of the floor. Georgetown’s first four possessions resulted in two turnovers and two unsuccessful post-ups by Smith.

Smith, who has been nearly unstoppable on the low block this season, seemed to meet his match in Xavier senior center Matt Stainbrook, who checks in at 6 feet 10 inches and 270 pounds. Stainbrook, with frequent help from his fellow Musketeers, managed to frustrate Smith all night, holding him to 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting and forcing him into four turnovers.

Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack emphasized his team’s group-oriented approach to slowing down Smith.

“I thought, by committee, our frontcourt did an excellent job against Josh Smith, who’s the biggest center I think we’ve ever gone against,” Mack said.

Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III agreed.

“[Xavier] knew how they wanted to guard big Josh and they did a good job with that,” Thompson said.

Smith was hardly the only Hoya to endure a vexing night on the offensive end of the court. Junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera led Georgetown in scoring with 18 points and made five of his nine shots from the floor, but was frequently forced into tough midrange jump shots by the tight defense of Xavier junior guard Remy Abell.

“I thought Remy Abell was terrific on the defensive end with maybe the biggest challenge in the league in [Smith-Rivera],” Mack said.

With Smith and Smith-Rivera, Georgetown’s two leading scorers, struggling to generate offense, it fell to the rest of the team to keep the Hoyas in the game. Unlike last Saturday’s 91-87 overtime win against Indiana in which senior forward Aaron Bowen scored 22 points off the bench and senior guard Jabril Trawick chipped in 12 points, the Hoyas were unable to provide enough offense to earn a victory.

Bowen and Trawick both managed six points, as did freshman guard L.J. Peak, but Georgetown as a team outside of Smith-Rivera and Smith shot only 29 percent from the floor and finished 1-of-10 from behind the arc. The Hoyas’ 53 points were the fewest points scored by the team this season.

“[Xavier] did a good job of taking away our first and second options,” Thompson said. “I think our guys did a poor job of staying patient and getting to the third, fourth, and fifth options.”

Despite its offensive struggles, Georgetown managed to keep the game competitive for most of the night with a solid defensive effort. The Hoyas held Xavier’s leading scorers Stainbrook and standout freshman forward Trevon Bluiett to eight points and four points, respectively. Stainbrook was limited to 2-of-4 shooting while Bluiett did not have a single field goal in the game.

Facing a six-point halftime deficit, the Hoyas went on a 6-1 run to start the second half, cutting the Musketeers’ lead to 32-31 on a jumpshot by Smith-Rivera with 17:28 remaining in the game. Though Georgetown seemed poised to turn the momentum in its favor, Georgetown was only able to score six points over the next seven-and-a-half minutes while Xavier stretched its lead back out to 10 points. The Hoyas would get no closer than eight points the rest of the way, and some late free throws would lead to the ultimately lopsided margin.

Georgetown will look to improve its start to the conference matchups when the team returns home to face Creighton (9-5, 0-1 Big East) this weekend. The Bluejays dropped their conference opener 65-53 to Providence on Wednesday night and are in the midst of a transition year, but they have proven that they are capable of beating quality teams, with non-conference wins over No. 18 Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Tip off is set for 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Verizon Center.

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