D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera is not known for his defense.
The junior guard was selected as the Preseason Big East Player of the Year for his ability to light up a scoreboard, not to lock down an opponent. Yet for the second time in two games against Butler, Smith-Rivera came up with a crucial defensive play on Tuesday night in his hometown of Indianapolis.
Back on Jan. 17, Smith-Rivera blocked a last-second shot in the lane from Butler junior forward Roosevelt Jones to preserve a 61-59 Hoya victory.
With less than 10 seconds remaining and the Hoyas leading by two on Tuesday, the Georgetown co-captain came out of nowhere to steal the ball from Butler senior forward Kameron Woods after Woods rebounded a missed free throw from senior center Joshua Smith. Smith-Rivera calmly knocked down two ensuing free throws that clinched a 60-54 Georgetown (19-9, 11-6 Big East) win over No. 21 Butler (21-9, 11-6 Big East).
“I think that’s an outstanding win,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “[Butler’s] an outstanding team.”
In the opening minutes of the game, senior guard Jabril Trawick carried the offensive load for the Hoyas, scoring the team’s first nine points on a mix of driving layups and jump shots.
Butler opened up a 17-11 lead a little over midway through the first half due in large part to its ability to grab offensive rebounds. The Bulldogs had seven in the first eight minutes of the game.
Struggling to find offensive production outside of Trawick, Thompson turned to freshman guard Tre Campbell off the bench. Although the freshman’s playing time has been inconsistent throughout the season, Campbell has been a productive player for the Hoyas when given extended minutes. On Tuesday night he did so again, scoring the first five points of what turned into a 15-7 run to give Georgetown a 30-24 lead at the break.
Although they had trouble rebounding at times, the Hoyas’ defense successfully limited the Bulldogs in the half. Trawick and senior forward Aaron Bowen, in particular, played critical roles in holding Jones to three points and junior guard Kellen Dunham — the Bulldogs’ leading scorer — to zero in the half.
Georgetown picked up right where it left off coming out of the locker room. Smith-Rivera and Smith scored on the first two possessions of the half and with 18:33 to play, the Hoyas led 34-24.
However, Georgetown did not make a field goal for over the next six minutes, and while the Hoya offense slept, Dunham woke up.
The Indiana native can hit from anywhere on the floor when he gets going and after being held silent for the first 25 minutes of the game, Dunham scored eight points in about 90 seconds to give Butler a 40-39 lead with 11:05 to play.
The last 10 minutes of the game felt similar to those of the team’s meeting in January. With both teams playing ferocious defense, every basket was an accomplishment.
“I thought we responded to them,” Thompson said. “It was not always pretty — in fact it was very ugly — but we responded when they came back at us.”
The Hoyas did not have a monopoly on ugly play, however. Butler made only 10 of its 22 attempts on the night, helping Georgetown to cling tenuously onto their lead in the second half.
With less than 15 seconds to play, the bruising Jones drove the ball to the hoop for Butler looking to even the score. His layup was off the mark and Smith was fouled as he grabbed the subsequent rebound for Georgetown with 12 seconds remaining.
The center missed the front end of the following one-and-one, seemingly setting up Butler one final possession to tie or win the game. Before the Bulldogs could even call timeout, the hometown kid Smith-Rivera swooped in to make his game saving steal.
“Those are the plays Coach normally tells me to sprint back on defense,” he said. “But [Woods] just exposed the ball to me; he didn’t see me, so in my mind it was just ‘get it or you know.’”
“Or get fired,” Thompson interjected with a chuckle.
In addition to the savvy defense, Smith-Rivera scored a game-high 16 points. Campbell and Smith both finished with 10 points and senior forward Mikael Hopkins had a quality game, scoring six points to go along with six rebounds and four blocks.
The win was a critical one for Georgetown from a few standpoints. First, it was the Hoyas’ best road win of the season and improved their record to 5-9 against the RPI top 50. The victory also moved Georgetown into a second-place tie with Butler in the Big East, half a game ahead of No. 24 Providence (20-9, 10-6 Big East).
With a victory in their final game of the season on Saturday against Seton Hall (16-12, 6-10 Big East), the Hoyas will finish no lower than third place in the conference. That game will be played at Verizon Center, making it senior day for Tyler Adams, Bowen, Hopkins, Trawick and Smith.
If it can replicate its performance from Tuesday, however, Georgetown will have plenty more games to play come the postseason.