Postgame Roundup: Georgetown passes tough test against Elon

After 10 days off for the final exam period, the Georgetown men’s basketball team (7-2, 0-0 Big East) survived a first-half shooting barrage to narrowly overcome Elon (5-6, 0-0 Southern) 85-76, in a fast-paced game Tuesday night at Verizon Center.

Head Coach John Thompson III thinks the victory against the Phoenix, the pre-season favorites to win the Southern Conference, will prepare his teams for tougher contests later this year.

“That’s a good win. That’s a tournament team,” said Thompson. “So we have a difficult first half, we get up a little bit and then they make a run at us, so that game played out almost like a conference game a lot of times, where there’s an ebb and flow and both teams are right there.”

Both teams treated the sparse crowd of 7,586 to an exciting first half, which included four ties and 12 lead changes. Elon used their hot shooting from three-point land, making eight in the first half, to build a 40-39 halftime lead. Overall this game, Elon shot 50 percent from the floor overall and 45 percent from three-point land.

“They’re one of the better shooting teams in the country,” said Thompson. “They hit eight threes in the first half and in doing that, the ones that they missed, they got a few long rebounds that we had to come up with…I’m glad at the end of the day we had more points than them.”

Despite the halftime deficit,  the Hoyas started in the second half with a 20-12 run, building a 59-51 lead they never surrendered for the rest of the game.  The Phoenix, whose hot shooting subsided in the second half, were able to cut the Hoyas’ lead 78-74 with 1:04 remaining. But Georgetown made their free throws late, shooting 7-of-8 from the free-throw line in the last minute to clinch the victory.

Thompson attributed the second half success to his team’s zone defense, which stymied Elon at times.

“They were in a rhythm offensively, so we went to a zone and then our zone was better than our man. It slowed them down a little bit, so that’s what we stuck with,” said Thompson.

After struggling to find his form in the first half, senior guard Markel Starks erupted for 16 second-half points. Starks had a game-high 21 points overall, leading a balanced Georgetown offense, which shot 54 percent from the field and 55 percent from three-point range, converting on 6-of-11 attempts from downtown.

“It was good to see Markel make those shots,” said Thompson. “He’s been talking to himself a little bit, so it’s good for him to put the ball in the basket.”

Sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and junior center Joshua Smith supplemented the Hoyas’ attack, scoring 19 and 18 points respectively. Smith especially dominated down low against undersized Elon, shooting 7-of-9 from the floor, including a backboard-rattling dunk late in the second half. Senior forward Nate Lubick also added 10, tying a season-high.

Starks praised his fellow teammates’ efforts after the game.

“There are going to be times we I have to score the ball. Tonight was one of those nights,” said Starks. “When you look at the stat sheet, the scoring was spread out. I thought we did a very good job of sharing the ball. And when it came time to make shots, we made shots.”

In spite of the win, Georgetown’s rebounding effort concerned Thompson. The undersized Phoenix out-rebounded the Hoyas, who had a significant size advantage, 32-31.

“We have to do a much better job…  It’s deflating a lot of times where you guard for 32 seconds, then they shoot and get an offensive rebound. That happened too much today, so we have to do a much better job than we did,” said Thompson.

The win extends the Hoya’s winning streak to six games and concludes a four-game homestand for the Hoyas. Thompson thinks his team has grown during this successful stretch.

“I think we’re figuring out, as a group, how to skin the cat,” said Thompson. “We’re figuring out what to look for, what not to look for, what we do and what we don’t do well.”

The Hoyas now have to prep themselves for a big test this Saturday, when they travel to face No. 18 Kansas at 12:00 p.m., a matchup that has been circled on many Hoyas’ fans calendar.

Stay tuned to Vox, who will be traveling to the game,  for additional coverage this week.

Things to Note: Thompson utilized a short bench in the second half, with only the starters and junior forward Mikael Hopkins and senior forward Aaron Bowen earning playing time… The Hoyas are now 2-0 all-time against Elon and 10-1 all-time against teams from the Southern Conference…The game against Elon marked the last time most students can see their Hoyas play at Verizon Center until Jan. 18th against Seton Hall. Over the winter break the Hoyas have three home games, which many devoted students won’t have the opportunity to see in person, including two Big East games against DePaul and St. John’s…Elon senior forward Lucas Troutman sent the crowd into a frenzy towards the end of the game when he missed two consecutive free throws, giving all those in attendance, as part of a promotion, a free chicken sandwich if they show their ticket stub at a local Chick-fil-A.

Photo: Georgetown Voice/Andres Rengifo

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