Averting DePaul from Grace: Hoyas skate by Blue Demons for third-straight win

On a snowy Saturday night in our nation’s capital, the Georgetown men’s basketball team (18-8, 10-5 Big East) narrowly defeated DePaul (12-16, 6-9 Big East), 68-63, in front of 7,984 fans at Verizon Center.

The Hoyas led by as many as 11 points in the second half but withstood a late second half charge from the Blue Demons in order to win their third consecutive game as well as move into sole possession of second-place in the Big East standings.

Up eight points, 64-56, with 1:52 remaining in regulation after a layup from senior guard Jabril Trawick, the Hoyas allowed the Blue Demons to cut the lead to two points, 64-62, after a pair of made free throws from DePaul sophomore guard Billy Garrett Jr.

But two clutch free throws on the ensuing possession from Georgetown freshman guard Tre Campbell with 25 seconds remaining put the Hoyas up 66-62 and put the game effectively out of reach for the Blue Demons, who sought to beat the Hoyas for the first time in Big East regular season play since they joined the conference for the 2005-06 season.

“We knew coming in that this game was going to be tougher than most because at this point DePaul has lost a few games in a row and they were coming out strong looking for a win,” Georgetown junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera said after the win. “At this point we have so much to play for and they were trying to recover and get back where they belong, so we knew it was going to be a tough game we just wanted to come out and win.

Smith-Rivera led the way for the Hoyas, who had four players score in double-figures, with a game-high 19 points along with seven rebounds. Senior center Joshua Smith tallied a double-double for the Hoyas, scoring 15 points while also grabbing a game-high 11 rebounds. Freshman forward Isaac Copeland had 12 points and Trawick added 10 points.

Especially in the second half, the Hoyas continually got the ball inside to Smith, who created problems for the DePaul defense the whole game both in the post and on the boards. Smith helped the Hoyas out-rebounded the Blue Demons 43-30, with 16 offensive rebounds that allowed the Hoyas to score 18 second chance points.

“From the very first possession of the second half we made a conscious effort to throw it in and Josh wanted the ball tonight,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said. “Some nights I’m not really sure if he wants it in there. Tonight it was clear that he wanted the ball. Every time I wanted to call something else his teammates would say let’s get it to Josh, so they wanted to get him the ball.”

The double-double performance from Smith was his sixth of the season, fourth of Big East play, and also marked the first time since the Jan. 6 contest against Marquette that he grabbed 10 or more rebounds.

“I just have to do that more. I was in a slump the last few games with how I was playing and my effort, and tonight was one of those nights where my teammates were riding me out and I was just trying to perform for them,” said Smith.

While Smith created problems for the Blue Demons, DePaul’s full-court pressure wreaked havoc at times on the Hoyas, who turned the ball over 13 times in the contest. The Blue Demons took advantage, as they scored 20 points off those turnovers.

“We got careless, that’s all,” Thompson said of his team’s turnovers. “They did a good job of going from their full court man-to-man to their zone presses, so we probably saw three different presses tonight. We were a little tentative and just didn’t do a good job adjusting to which one they were in.”

Senior forward Forrest Robinson paced the Blue Demons with 17 points, off 5-of-9 shooting from three-point range. The junior college transfer almost single-handedly brought the Blue Demons back into the game as he made three three-pointers on three consecutive possessions to cut a once comfortable Georgetown lead to 56-55 with 5:42 left to play, which set the tone for the game’s close finish.

“[Robinson] was open too much,” Thompson said after the game. “Going into the scouting report you know that’s what he does, we know that’s what he does, so we can’t let him get those shots off.”

Despite treacherous conditions outside, the Georgetown student section surprisingly had a strong showing at Verizon Center. Saturday’s night game was the last opportunity for most to see the Hoyas in action this year, as the Blue and Gray’s final home game on Mar. 7 against Seton Hall will take place during spring break. Overall, Smith had positive words for the support he and his teammates have received from their peers.

“It has been phenomenal for them to come out. They’ve been out there the majority of the games, they’ve been loud and to be honest, we really thank them for coming out and supporting us,” Smith said. “A lot of times they don’t have to come out with school and other things going on but we have some of the best fans in the country so we appreciate all the students for coming out and hopefully we’ll see them at the Big East Tournament.

The Hoyas will now have a week off before their next game, when they travel to face St. John’s (18-9, 7-7 Big East) this Saturday at New York’s Madison Square Garden for a noon tip-off. Thompson welcomes the time off for his team, as he believes it will help the Hoyas work on some internal areas that need improvement, rather than focus exclusively on the next game.

“When you have this amount of time, besides getting some rest, it gives us a day or two where you don’t have to worry about the opposition,” Thompson said. “Not to say we’re not worried about the opposition, but we can focus on what we need to work on and we can devote a larger portion of practice time to us.

The Blue and Gray will look to build on their three-game winning streak as well as complete the season sweep of the Red Storm, who they blew out at Verizon Center, 79-57, on Feb. 17. It will be the Hoyas’ second trip to Madison Square Garden this season, as they defeated Indiana there on Dec. 27 in an overtime thriller, 91-87.

Photo: Georgetown University

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