Jay-K: Hoyas tease Big East elimination until DSR’s clutch play lifts them past Bluejays

NEW YORK — “We needed it.”

Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III surely wasn’t kidding when asked about the second-half performance of junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who scored 12 of the Hoyas’ last 15 points to lift No. 23 Georgetown (21-9, 12-6 Big East) to a nail-biting 60-55 over Creighton (14-19, 4-14 Big East) in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. The win, the Hoyas’ sixth in their last seven games, earns them a spot in the semifinals of the tournament for 21st time in program history.

After a 12-1 run midway through the second half put 10th-seeded Creighton up 51-45 with six minutes remaining in the contest, Smith-Rivera put his team on his back. On the ensuing possession, the recently named All-Big East 1st-Team selection drilled a three-pointer from the right wing to quell the Bluejays’ run and take back the momentum in the Hoyas’ favor.

“At that point, they were on the run,” Smith-Rivera said of the play. “I really just wanted to make a play, and the guys were looking for me to make something happen. At that point, that’s what I wanted to do.”

The second-seeded Hoyas then put together a 7-2 run, culminating in a layup from senior center Joshua Smith with 2:06 left to play, to take a 54-53 lead. On the Blue and Gray’s next possession, Smith-Rivera’s converted a jumper in traffic as the shot clock was just about to expire to extend the lead to 56-53. After calling timeout, Creighton’s attempt to tie the contest was foiled, as junior guard Dante Milliken’s kick-out pass overshot senior guard Austin Chatman, who stood wide open behind the three-point line in the corner. Smith-Rivera knocked down 4-of-4 free throw attempts to close the game for the Hoyas and seal their third consecutive win.

Overall, Smith-Rivera scored a game-high 25 points, 17 of which came in the second half, off 7-of-13 shooting for a Georgetown team that otherwise struggled offensively, shooting 38 percent overall.

“We got to the point where we needed someone to step up,” said Thompson following the win. “When we need baskets, everyone knows who we’re going to… it’s usually him. So he answered today.”

Although the Hoyas easily defeated Creighton earlier this season on both of their regular season matchups, 76-61 at Verizon Center on Jan. 3 and 67-40 at Creighton on Jan. 31, they faced a much stiffer opposition Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

“They were focused,” Thompson said of the Bluejays. “They were extremely aggressive with how they played, and it was effective.”

Milliken, especially, created problems for the Blue and Gray from the outside, as he led the Bluejays with 17 points, off 6-of-9 shooting including 4-of-6 from three-point range. But the Hoyas slowed him down in the closing minutes of the game, as he did not score for the final 16:26 of the game.

“They did a pretty good job denying me,” Milliken said post-game. “As far as our plays were, coming off of down screens and ball screens, they did a pretty good job of denying that and making me change up my pace. I felt like they adjusted pretty well.”

While Georgetown made life difficult for Milliken, Creighton tried to stifle Smith, swarming him with two, sometimes three defenders whenever he attempted to post up. The UCLA transfer struggled to find his groove in the early going but finished the game with 10 points, off 4-of-8 shooting, along with five rebounds and two assists.

“I was trying to be patient,” said Smith, who was the only other Hoya to score in double-figures. “Going into the game, we knew they were going to double-team, and I was just trying to find my teammates.”

The win, the Hoyas’ sixth in their last seven games, earns them a spot in the Big East semifinals, their 21st appearance in program history. Getting to that point is a sense of relief for the Hoyas, who last season were knocked out in the first round by 10th-seeded DePaul, a loss which all but ensured they would not receive an invite to last seasons’ tournament.

“To get the first win is a sense of relief, but we are optimistic going forward,” said Thompson. “So now we have to watch this game and go and play a very good team, whichever one wins, tomorrow.”

Although unclear at the time Thompson made that statement, the Hoyas will face sixth-seeded Xavier who defeated Butler in overtime, 67-61, later Thursday night. Both teams will play after the conclusion of the other semifinal matchup between first-seed No. 4 Villanova (30-2, 16-2 Big East) and fifth-seeded Providence (22-10, 11-7 Big East) at approximately 9:30p.m.

The Musketeers swept the regular season series handily with the Blue and Gray. They defeated the Hoyas 70-53 in Cincinnati on Dec. 31 as well as at Verizon Center on Jan. 27, 66-53. Despite their regular season woes against Xavier, Georgetown freshman guard Tre Campbell believes that the intangibles will be the key to victory.

“We just have to come out with energy,” said Campbell in the Hoyas’ locker room after the game. “I think that whoever will bring the most energy tomorrow will win.”

Photo: Noah Buyon / The Georgetown Voice

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