All for None: Hoyas’ late comeback attempt falls short in semifinal loss to Musketeers
NEW YORK — Close, but no cigar, or, in the case of Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III and his squad, no Big East Tournament Final appearance.
Down by as many as 20 points with just under eight minutes remaining, No. 23 Georgetown (21-10, 12-6 Big East) mounted a valiant comeback effort, cutting the deficit to one point twice in the final 15 seconds of regulation. But the team failed to fully overcome the deep hole they dug for themselves, as they fell to sixth-seeded Xavier (21-12, 9-9 Big East) 65-63, in the Big East Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
Up 35-26 at halftime, the Musketeers jumped out on a 18-7 run to start the second half, taking advantage of the Georgetown’s offensive struggles with their 1-3-1 zone defense. They kept the Hoyas without a field goal for the first 7:33 of the closing frame. But after the game’s officials called a technical foul on Xavier sophomore forward Jalen Reynolds for shoving Georgetown senior guard Jabril Trawick after a foul call on Trawick’s layup attempt with 7:51 remaining in regulation, the momentum began to swing in the Hoyas’ favor.
The Hoyas took advantage of the circumstances, scoring five points in the same possession (Trawick hit 1-of-2 free throws, junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera converted both technical free throws, and freshman forward Isaac Copeland’s sunk a mid-range jumper) to cut the deficit to 15 points, 53-38, with 7:32 left to play.
Due to their strong defense and adjustments made against the 1-3-1 defense, as well as poor Xavier foul shooting (14-of-24 in the second half), the Blue and Gray put together a 19-6 run over the next 7:09, culminating in a three-pointer from freshman forward Paul White, to trim the Musketeers’ lead to 59-57 with 23.0 seconds remaining. During the run, the Hoyas finally figured out to break down their opposition’s stifling zone defense.
“I think we finally started getting the ball in the middle of their zone,” Thompson said. “For too long of a stretch, we were just passing the ball around the perimeter. But we started getting the ball into the middle of it and making correct decisions.”
After a quick foul by Copeland, Xavier sophomore guard Myles Davis missed his first free throw but made the second to extend the lead to three points, 60-57, with 22.0 seconds left. On the ensuing Georgetown possession, Smith-Rivera drove to the basket for an easy lay-up to make it 60-59, but a quick foul sent Xavier senior guard Dee Davis to the free throw line where he converted both attempts to build the lead back up to 62-59 with 10.3 seconds remaining.
The Musketeers then opted to foul the Hoyas rather than let the game play out, sending Trawick to the free throw line twice in the final 5.4 seconds, ultimately deterring any hope of the Hoyas fully making a comeback and either winning the game outright or sending it to overtime. Trawick hit all four free throws, despite his intention to miss the last one on purpose, with 1.9 seconds left, in an effort for the Hoyas to tie the game with a putback off an offensive rebound. Georgetown quickly fouled Xavier junior James Farr, who hit one of two free throws, making it 65-63, with 1.4 seconds left to seal the victory for the Musketeers. The Hoyas never got off a desperation heave.
Fouling up three points on two occasions was a strategic move that paid off for Xavier Head Coach Chris Mack and his team, who will make their first ever Big East Tournament finals appearance tomorrow night against top-seeded, No. 4 Villanova (31-2, 16-2 Big East) at 8:00p.m.
“We felt like with 10 seconds, by the time they maybe got to half-court, these guys did a good job of turning them…I trust the guys to block out, rebound, and inbound, and that’s just the strategy we chose to go with,” said Mack after the game.
On the other side, the Hoyas found themselves in awkward situation of having to miss a free throw on purpose, something that Thompson bluntly admitted his team does not practice.
“We have enough trouble practicing making, so I can honestly say, we never practiced missing,” Thompson said.”
Overall for the Hoyas, Trawick, playing in his final Big East Tournament, led the way with 19 points, tying a career-high he set in last Saturday’s regular season finale against Seton Hall. The Philadelphia native also converted 10-of-12 free throw attempts, a career-high as well. Copeland added 15 points, off 6-of-9 shooting, with 11 of those coming in the final seven minutes while Smith-Rivera scored 11.
Despite the loss, Copeland did point to the positive aspects of the team’s comeback.
“I think this comeback shows how deep of a team we are,” he said. “It’s not easy to come back from down 20 like we were. It shows we have a lot of heart.”
Although the Blue and Gray were ultimately disappointed with their performance, senior center Joshua Smith blamed himself for the team’s loss. The UCLA transfer had 10 points, all in the first half, but played only 17 minutes due to foul trouble.
“I let my team down in the second half. I didn’t compete,” Smith said in the team’s locker room after the game. “[My teammates] competed their tails off and they got us back in the game. I didn’t show up in the second half. It’s my fault we lost.”
On the other hand, Smith’s counterpart, Xavier senior center Matt Stainbrook, was the star of the game for both teams. College basketball’s most famous Uber driver had a game-high 20 points – off 8-of-13 shooting – and nine rebounds to lead the Musketeers to their third consecutive victory.
“Stopping him is difficult just because he’s so poised, and they do a good job of getting him the ball,” Thompson said. “He poses problems, not just because of his size, not just his skill level, but also his IQ.”
The Hoyas’ loss, just their second in their last eight games, marks the third time the Musketeers have beaten them this year, the first time an opponent has defeated the Hoyas three times in the same season since Connecticut did it during the 2004-05 season. They defeated the Hoyas 70-53 on Dec. 31 in Cincinnati, as well as at Verizon Center on Jan. 27, 66-53.
“I just think they’re a balanced team. They’re a very, very balanced team,” Thompson said of Xavier. “They support and help each other at the defensive end. Whether it’s their 1-3-1, their man-to-man, or their 2-3, it’s difficult.”
The Hoyas will now wait till Sunday night’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show to find out their future postseason path. Ranked 18th in the national RPI, along with possessing the fifth-toughest strength of schedule nationally, Georgetown will undoubtedly receive an at-large bid to next week’s tournament, their ninth NCAA appearance under Thompson. But the 11th-year head coach has not even started thinking that far ahead.
“I don’t know if right now is the time for me to digest that,” Thompson said.