Peak-aboo: Peak, Hoyas impress in season-opening win against St. Francis

“I’m excited to see where the season will go.”

That post-game quote by Georgetown senior forward Mikael Hopkins most aptly summarizes the probable feelings of many Georgetown fans after the Hoyas (1-0, 0-0 Big East) throttled St. Francis (0-1, 0-0 NEC), 83-62, in their season opener Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center. In his college debut, freshman forward L.J. Peak led an all-around team effort for the Hoyas, as he scored a game-high 23 points on perfect 9-of-9 shooting from the field.

“He played well. L.J.’s a very good basketball player,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said. “I thought his teammates did a good job of sharing the game and getting him the ball in positions where he can do what he does. He’s a natural scorer. It comes easy to him.”

A much-discussed question for the Hoyas would be their starting lineup entering the contest. In accordance with the reported lineups of the team’s preseason scrimmages, Thompson elected to start the opener with a lineup of Peak, Hopkins, junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, senior guard Jabril Trawick, and senior center Joshua Smith.

All played a role in the blowout victory for the Hoyas. Despite struggling with his shot, converting only 2-of-9 field goal attempts, Smith-Rivera contributed in other facets of the Hoyas, finishing with eight points, nine rebounds, and six assists. Trawick and Smith, along with Peak, were the other two Hoyas who scored in double-figures, tallying 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Thompson surprised many with his willingness to go deep into the rotation early on in the game, especially with the freshmen. Four of the five freshmen, consisting of Peak, forward Isaac Copeland, forward Paul White, and guard Tre Campbell, all saw court time within the opening eight minutes of the contest. Campbell added seven points off the bench, while Copeland and White scored six points. Overall, the group settled in nicely in their college debuts and are going to be expected to play roles right away for Thompson’s team.

“I thought they all were okay. For freshmen in their first game, everyone’s settling in,” Thompson said. “Those guys are going to be asked to do a lot this year. I thought everyone, for the most part, looked comfortable offensively and defensively. I thought everyone, for the most part, understood the rotations, understood our systems at both ends of the court. Now we just have to keep making progress.”

The free-flowing substitutions by Thompson, which saw 11 different Hoyas play during the first half, are certainly a departure for his normally regimented rotation. Thompson expects there to be a learning curve for his guys due to the depth his team is blessed with this season.

“We had many different lineups on the court,” Thompson said. “With so many young guys and so many older guys being asked to do different things they haven’t been asked to do, we’re going to have shaky periods until we smooth things out.”

The Hoyas got off to a hot start in the first half, leading 35-21 after a layup from Smith, but went into the half leading by only six points, 37-31. Despite shooting only 42 percent in the first half, Georgetown shot an impressive 63 percent in the second half to pull away from the feisty Terriers. The Terriers struggled with the Hoyas’ up-tempo, penetrative offense for much of the day, as the Blue and Gray scored 54 points in the paint as well as 19 points off of fast break opportunities.

“We were getting up and down, we got a nice early lead. Then we allowed them to get back in the game,” Trawick said. “In the second half, I thought we came out with the attentiveness that we needed to.”

Defensively, the Hoyas were able to hold the Terriers’ star player, senior forward Jalen Cannon, in check for most of the game. Cannon, who was guarded by Hopkins for much of the game, scored only 10 points, on 4-of-12 shooting, and struggled to get into a rhythm offensively.

“I just tried to be physical and give him different looks, not allow him to get easy post position,” Hopkins said.

Despite their strong effort with regards to containing Cannon, the Hoyas defense left much to be desired in terms of their rebounding. The Terriers outrebounded the Hoyas 45-40, which included a whopping 22 offensive rebounds. Hopkins, who pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds, sees this as an area where the Hoyas need improvement.

“That was the main reason they were able to stay in the game because they kept getting second shots, putting pressure on our defense,” Hopkins said. “Once the second half started, we focused on rebounding and that’s when we were able to spread the game open.”

One of the contributing factors to the Hoyas’ rebounding deficiency was Smith, who did not impress Thompson with his effort in his first competitive game since last January. In spite of his substantial size advantage over the smaller Terriers, Smith pulled down only two rebounds, which both came on the offensive end after his own missed field goal attempts.

“I thought it was unacceptable. He’s got to play better. Josh Smith can’t play and have two rebounds total,” Thompson said.

Although many Georgetown fans may get excited over the team’s impressive first win, Thompson wants them to realize that there’s still a long journey ahead.

“We’re a totally different team than we were last year. We’re a work in progress,” Thompson said. “There’s a long way to go.”

The Hoyas will look to build on their season-opening win when they face Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (1-0, 0-0 Southland) this Tuesday night at Verizon Center. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.

Additional reporting by Chris Almeida and Robbie Ponce

Photo: Freddy Rosas/Georgetown Voice

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