The Audacity of Cope’: Career game from freshman helps Hoyas blow by Seton Hall

NEWARK — After letting a 20-point first half lead slip away following Seton Hall junior guard Sterling Gibbs’ three-pointer at the 18:52 mark of the second half, the winning prospects for the Georgetown men’s basketball team looked bleak, at best.

And with the frontcourt of seniors Joshua Smith and Mikael Hopkins sidelined after picking up their fourth fouls shortly thereafter, Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III needed someone to step up to prevent his team from suffering their fourth loss in five games.

Freshman forward Isaac Copeland answered the call, as he either scored or assisted on 14 of the Hoyas’ next 17 points, helping Georgetown (16-8, 8-5 Big East) cruise to an 86-67 win over Seton Hall (15-9, 5-7 Big East) Tuesday night in front of 8,357 fans at Prudential Center.

Making just his second start of the season, Copeland scored a career-high 20 points, shooting 5-of-7 from the floor in the closing half, 8-of-13 for the game, to help the Hoyas beat the Pirates at Prudential Center for the first time since 2011. The freshman also pulled down a team-high eight rebounds, which tied his career-high.

“He played like a man today,” Georgetown junior guard D’Vauntes-Smith Rivera said. “That’s how we need him to play for the remainder of the season. We need him to continue to rebound for us like that.”

It was a marked difference from the Jan. 27th contest against Xavier where Copeland earned his first starting. He had only five points and two rebounds in that game, a stat line that motivated him to perform better the next time he got the nod.

“Going into the game, I knew I was going to start so I felt like I had to make up for the last game when I started,” Copeland said. “I wanted to come out and be aggressive, do what my team wanted me to do.”

Copeland, however, was not alone in his efforts to help the Hoyas notch the victory. Smith-Rivera had a strong game as well, as he scored a game-high 23 points, off 7-of-12 shooting, to go along with a career-high five steals. Senior guard Jabril Trawick also added 12 points.

Smith-Rivera felt the Hoyas’ defense, which held the Pirates to just 30 percent shooting in the second half, helped fuel their offense, which shot a whopping 57 percent in the second half. The Georgetown offense also scored 27 points off Seton Hall’s 17 turnovers.

“The defense is I think why we executed so well offensively,” Smith-Rivera said. “Once you see that we’re getting stops and we’re getting rebounds, we can get out in transition and we can execute offensively.”

That certainly seemed to be the case for the Hoyas early in the first half, as they scored the first eight points of the contest, using that momentum to build up a 27-7 lead with 11:30 left to play in the first half.

“I think we had a much better start. We made some shots early, which led to some good defense early,” Thompson said. “And then Seton Hall, as all good teams do, made a big run.”

Thompson certainly wasn’t kidding. The Pirates proceeded to outscore the Hoyas 31-16 for the rest of the half to enter halftime down only 43-38. Seton Hall took advantage of the Georgetown frontcourt’s foul troubles, as Smith and Hopkins both picked up three personal fouls midway through the first half and were largely absent during the Pirates run.

“I don’t know whether I should articulate what was going through my mind,” a laughing Thompson said postgame, when asked about the foul troubles of Smith and Hopkins. “It was clear that it was going to be one of those games where we were going to have to figure it out.”

And figure it out they did. After Gibbs’ aforementioned three-pointer to tie the game punctuated a mini 5-0 run by the Pirates to start the second half, the Hoyas did not allow the Pirates to ever gain control of the lead, as they went on a 17-4 run to put them up 61-48 with 11:31 left in the game. Seton Hall never cut the deficit to single-digits for the remainder of the game.

Freshman forward Angel Delgado led the way for the Pirates with his eighth double-double of the season, as pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds and scored 12 points. Gibbs tallied 17 points, off 6-of-13 shooting, while senior forward Brandon Mobley added 11 points.

While the comeback by the potent Seton Hall offense may have fazed most freshmen, an old saying by Copeland’s father kept creeping into the freshman’s head during the game, something he felt kept him composed enough to help lead the Hoyas on their game-clinching 17-3 run.

“Growing up my dad always told me, ‘next play.’ So I always think of that whenever we’re getting down.”

The Hoyas will now have a week off before returning to Verizon Center this Tuesday, Feb. 17, to play St. John’s (15-8, 4-6 Big East), for their first of two meetings this season. Tip-off is slated for 7:00p.m.

When asked if Copeland will be in the starting lineup against the Red Storm after the career game the freshman had, Thompson thinks it’s too early to tell.

“I’m not sure,” Thompson said.

Photo: Georgetown University

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