Postgame Roundup: Hoyas slay Spartans to end losing streak

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The wait is over. In a mid-season non-conference matchup at Madison Square Garden, the Georgetown men’s basketball team (12-9, 3-6 Big East) pulled off an upset against No. 6 Michigan State 64-60 to end the team’s five-game losing streak.

“That’s a good win and I would feel that way regardless of who the opposition was…but that is a good win against a very good team, “Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said following the much-needed victory. “I told the team before the game, let’s not come in here and have to listen to me give a speech after the game. We went out and played hard.”

In a reversal of roles, the Hoyas returned to full strength, while the Spartans played with a depleted roster. The Hoyas returned senior center Moses Ayegba from a one game suspension related to “pre-enrollment reconciliation and junior guard Jabril Trawick played increased minutes in his second game back from a broken jaw. Meanwhile, the Spartans played their second consecutive game without senior forward Adreian Payne and junior forward Branden Dawson due to injuries. And Georgetown took advantage.

“It’s good to have numbers back and it makes a big difference, not to make any excuses for the last few weeks,” Thompson said. “Having numbers back allows us to do different things, our rotations are different, and it just helps.”

The Hoyas hung tough with the Spartans, in a back and forth affair which saw six lead changes,  while showing an offensive spark that has been absent for much of the season. Trailing 30-29 at the half, the Hoyas came out with an offensive burst in the second half, leading for the final 19:42 of the game. This was a change of pace for a Hoya team that has lost leads in the second halves of multiple games over their recent losing streak.

“You’re not going to beat Michigan State or any team in the Big East if you aren’t physically tough. You need to be tough enough to make the hustle plays, run down the loose balls, run down the long rebound, and have communication on defense,” Thompson said.

The Hoyas were led by senior guard Markel Starks, who followed his strong performance against Villanova with a team-high 16 points. Junior forward Mikael Hopkins, who scored the first 6 points of the game for the Hoyas, added 10. Trawick and senior forward Nate Lubick each had 8 points. Sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera again struggled from the field, but managed to get to the line, scoring 12 points despite 2-11 shooting. Smith-Rivera was also quietly the team’s leading rebounder, grabbing 8 boards.

“It was great and everyone contributed in the frontcourt,” Lubick said. “Everybody came in and did a great job.”

For the Spartans, sophomore guard Gary Harris was the key offensive force on the day, scoring a game-high 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting and making key plays at the end of the game that kept the Spartans within striking distance. However, senior guard Keith Appling struggled, scoring only 7 points. With Payne and Dawson’s absences, the Georgetown frontcourt overwhelmed the Spartans, as Lubick and Hopkins had their best games of 2014 on basketball’s biggest stage. The Hoyas controlled the glass for much of the game, out-rebounding the Spartans 37-30, including 15 offensive rebounds.

“This is team (Michigan State) notorious for their rebounding and physical toughness in the point and their offensive rebounding specifically,” Lubick said. “We beat them up pretty good on the boards and that was a big point of emphasis for us.”

Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo shared similar sentiments.

“Today we got out-toughed. We got thrown around on the boards, we got posted up,” Izzo said. “I give John (Thompson III) a lot of credit; he took his team, an 11-9 team that lost a lot of tough games, hopefully will get them going. I have a lot of respect for him and his program. I thought they manhandled us.”

Coming off the win, the Hoyas will enter the second half of Big East play looking to revitalize their NCAA Tournament hopes. With their lineup back at full strength, the Blue and Gray will attempt to strengthen their résumé, which now has a much-desired signature win.

“It’s a relief to finally get a win,” Starks said. “More importantly, I think it is encouraging to the team and it feels good finally.”

Georgetown has a quick turn-around as they travel to face DePaul (10-12, 2-7 Big East) on Monday at 9:00 P.M.  The Hoyas will look to sweep the season series from the Blue Demons, who they defeated 61-54 at Verizon Center on December 31.

Additional reporting by Joe Pollicino

Photo: Noah Buyon/Georgetown Voice

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