Postgame Roundup: Hoyas overcome Friars for fourth straight win

In a back-and-forth affair at Verizon Center Monday night, which saw both teams exchange eight different leads, as well tied on five different occasions, the Georgetown men’s basketball team (15-9, 6-6 Big East) prevailed over Providence (16-9, 6-6 Big East) 83-71.

Providence senior guard Bryce Cotton erupted for 31 points, but the Hoyas’ hot shooting in the second half proved decisive, as the Blue and Gray extended their winning streak to four games. Down 54-47 with 10:25 remaining in the second half, the Hoyas went on a 36-17 run to close the game and get themselves back to .500 in Big East play for the first time since Jan. 18.

“We still have a ways to go. I like the way our guys are competing,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said following the victory. “We’ve had different guys step up and make big plays.”

The Georgetown backcourt of sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and senior guard Markel Starks continued their strong performance from their previous game against Butler, as the duo shot a combined 13-of-25 from the field. Smith-Rivera padded the stat sheet with a team-high 22 points and five assists, as well as five rebounds.

“[D’Vauntes] shouldn’t be defined just by scoring points,” Thompson said. “We need him to rebound. We need him to throw passes to other guys and then he’ll find a way to get his baskets.”

Starks, who earned a spot on the Big East Weekly Honor for his play last week, also added 14 points and four assists. Starks brought the Verizon Center to its feet in stunned silence after he clutched his knee following a layup with under seven minutes remaining in the game. However, Starks put the worst fears of many fans to rest, as he quickly returned after only sitting out only a minute on the bench. In his first offensive possession, he handed out an assist to senior forward Lubick and later sank a pull-up jumper during the closing stretch to help put the game out of reach.

“He competes. He just banged knees, he’s OK, I don’t think it’s anything serious, but he competes,” Thompson said. “He wants to win and he does a very good job of directing traffic out there.”

The Friars, led by Cotton, shot 5-of-11 from three-point land in the first half. After the Hoyas held him scoreless for the majority of the first half, Cotton exploded for 19 points in the final 6:42 of the first half to give the Friars a 36-32 halftime lead. However, the Friars’ hot shooting subsided in the second half, managing only 2-of-10 from three-point range, as Cotton cooled off.

“Bryce has been doing that all year, that isn’t a surprise to us. He should have had 50 [points] to be honest with you,” Providence Head Coach Ed Cooley said. “I thought there were a lot of no-calls coming down the lane. Whatever the new rules and points of emphasis was, and I put that in bold print, `WAS’, hmm. It’s back to the Big East.”

Junior guard Jabril Trawick proved vital to the Hoya’s success in the second half. After only scoring one point in the first half, Trawick helped revitalize the Hoya offense after intermission, with 11 points while also tasked with containing Cotton for the closing stretch. In order to prevent the continuation of Cotton’s hot streak in the second half, the Hoyas alternated zone and man defense, with Trawick often covering him in man-to-man. The different looks seemed to disrupt Cotton off his game slightly, as he forced shots against the taller Trawick.

“We went back and forth between man and zone and I think our bigs did a good job of when he was receiving the ball of being up higher, so that he couldn’t come off for open shots,” Thompson said. “What we did is make a conscious effort that the five guys on the court had to guard him, whether we’re man or zone. Markel was on him most of the night, but Jabril did a good job on him down the stretch when we were playing man-to-man.”

The Georgetown frontcourt of junior forward Mikael Hopkins and senior forward Nate Lubick stepped up once again, especially with their defense and rebounding. Hopkins pulled down 11 rebounds, his third game in double figures this season, along with his eight points and two blocks. Lubick had another efficient performance with eight points, on 4-of-6 shooting, as well as six rebounds. Lubick also drew three offensive fouls on the defensive end. Hopkins and Lubick’s play have been crucial to the Hoyas’ recent success.

“We’ve just been better. Not much has changed other than the fact that we’ve been rebounding,” Lubick said. “When Mikael and I are not rebounding, especially since Josh [Smith] has been out, we’re just not going to win games. We saw that during the stretch and I think that was a pretty big part of why we were losing games. We knew that we needed to change that and, knock on wood, we can keep doing that.”

Foul shooting and turnovers played a crucial part for the Blue in Gray in their winning effort. The Hoyas shot 24-of-30 from the charity stripe, including 17-of-19 in the second half which helped clinch the win. Georgetown also managed to force 12 Providence miscues, which they converted into 16 points. Meanwhile, a far more cautious Georgetown offense turned it over only four times, a positive trend during this winning stretch.

“The way this team is built, we can’t turn the ball over. We have to find ways to get to the foul line, we have to hit the boards,” Thompson said. “[Providence is] a very good offensive rebounding team and they got some second shots, but the turnovers are the key. We have to come down and see if we can get a good shot every time and if not, sprint back and get a stop.”

With the win, Hoyas avenged their 18-point loss to the Friars in early January, which marked Coach Thompson’s first loss to Providence in his time at Georgetown. Without junior center Joshua Smith for the first time, the Hoyas struggled as they bowed easily to Friars’ aggressiveness during the contest. However, both teams have reversed roles since that early league matchup, as the Hoyas have now won four straight while Friars have dropped four of their last five.

“[Georgetown is] a lot more synchronized. They have a lot of team chemistry that you can see on the floor,” Cooley said. “They are comfortable in their roles… They’ve had practices together, they’ve played in games more and had some success, so, naturally the guys are going to play more comfortable with each other.”

The Hoyas will now have a few days off before they return to New York’s Madison Square Garden for the second time this year, when they face St. John’s (15-9, 5-6 Big East) at 7:00 p.m. The Blue and Gray jumpstarted their current winning streak at Madison Square Garden on February 1, where they defeated No. 7 Michigan State 64-60.

Photo: Joshua Raftis/Georgetown Voice

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