Statement Game: Hoyas Receive National Attention Despite Loss to No. 10 Kansas
It was a statement game, in the strictest sense of the phrase. When the Georgetown men’s basketball team took the Verizon Center floor Wednesday night for pregame warm-ups wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts, they became the first team in all of college basketball to join in the nationwide solidarity movement in protest of police brutality.
And while their actions certainly drew the attention of the whole country, the Hoyas (5-3, 0-0 Big East) were unable to earn a much-needed national statement win, as they lost to No. 10 Kansas (7-3, 0-0 Big 12), 70-75, in front of a boisterous crowd of 14,164 fans, the largest crowd to attend a Georgetown home game since March 2013.
The back-and-forth affair saw Georgetown senior center Joshua Smith score a game-high 20 points and freshman guard L.J. Peak tally 18 points, but it was not enough for the Blue and Gray, who saw their 53-game home non-conference winning streak snapped with the loss.
The Hoyas were pretty evenly matched in almost all major statistical categories—field-goal percentage (GU 41-38), rebounds (KU 39-37), turnovers (KU 17-16), free throw percentage (KU 78-73)—except one: three-point shooting. Thanks in large part to Kansas sophomore Brannen Greene’s 19 points off perfect 5-of-5 shooting from three-point land, the Jayhawks shot 59 percent from downtown, which in the end proved to be the difference maker.
“He was locked in,” said Kansas Head Coach Bill Self of Greene’s play. “He made shots, but even if he hadn’t made shots, he still would have played pretty well.”
With the Hoyas up 44-41 and 13:48 left in the second half, Greene carried the Jayhawks by going on a run of his own, converting three three-pointers in a span of 1:44 to give Kansas a 51-47 lead. Although the teams were tied twice in the remaining minutes of the game, 61-61 with 6:13 remaining, the Hoyas never regained the lead again. Senior guard Jabril Trawick’s layup with 1:43 left cut the Jayhawks’ lead to 68-67, but the Hoyas couldn’t execute late and the Jayhawks iced the game with their free throw shooting, as they made 7-of-8 attempts in the final 1:00.
“We had some key defensive mix ups at some key times,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said following the loss.
For all the pre-game excitement surrounding the game, with some students lining up outside Verizon Center as early as noon, the Blue and Gray came out flat, and the Jayhawks jumped out to a commanding 28-15 lead with 6:22 left in the first half, as they took advantage of the Hoyas’ initial sloppy play.
Georgetown, however, would not succumb, as they went on a 17-6 run, which included a stretch of 11 unanswered points, to close the half down 32-34. The Hoyas were able to get back into the game due to the efforts of Smith, as he gave Kansas problems throughout the whole contest. Smith was dominant in the low post, converting 8-of-13 field goal attempts, and was often drawing double- and triple-teams from the Jayhawks.
“We didn’t do a good job on him but he’s a load, even our guys said ‘God we knew he was big but we had no idea,’” said Self regarding his team’s efforts in attempting to contain Smith. “It’s hard to simulate how big he is until you actually guard him.”
Despite recording his third career double-double, 10 points and 10 rebounds, Georgetown junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera struggled to find his shooting touch against the Jayhawks, as he shot only 3-of-15 from the field. Although he did recognize that Kansas’ aggressive defense played a part, the Big East Preseason Player of the Year thought it just wasn’t his night.
“I think it was more just missing shots that I normally make. Rushing some shots that I should have taken my time with,” said Smith-Rivera. “It wasn’t necessarily anything defensively. I do want to give them credit. They crowded the paint a lot more and were playing a lot of help side defense…It was just a lot of shots that didn’t go in.”
While they have played a challenging non-conference schedule to start this season, having played three ranked teams (Florida, Wisconsin, Kansas) in their first eight games, the Hoyas’ 5-3 record marks the worst eight-game start to a season since the 2006-2007 campaign.
Although this season’s start may be a cause for concern for many Georgetown fans, that 2006-07 did go on to reach the Final Four, a feat the Blue and Gray have not duplicated since. But at this point in the season, Thompson feels it’s too early to judge what his team may be capable of in the future based on their play so far.
“At this juncture it’s hard to assess that right now,” said Thompson. “…I don’t know.”
The Hoyas will look to bounce back when they face Radford (5-3, 0-0 Big South) this Saturday at Verizon Center. Tip-off is slated for 12:00p.m.
Photo: Joe Pollicino/The Georgetown Voice