A dark track record loomed going into the 2015 postseason: In its last five appearances in the NCAA tournament, Georgetown had fallen to a double-digit seed: No. 10 seed Davidson, No. 13 seed Ohio, No. 11 seed VCU, No. 11 seed North Carolina State and finally, and most infamously, No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast. When the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee awarded the Hoyas a No. 4 seed despite a 21-10 record, 12-6 in the Big East, entering the tournament, many pundits put Georgetown on upset alert, especially as it was slotted to face No. 13 seed Eastern Washington and the nation’s leading scorer, junior guard Tyler Harvey.
“It was the first tournament since we went to the [National Invitation Tournament] my sophomore year, so we definitely wanted to go in there with a full head of steam,” senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera said.
The comparisons to the 2008 loss to Davidson were everywhere. Many compared Harvey to current NBA superstar Stephen Curry, the nation’s leading scorer and Davidson’s top threat in 2008. But Harvey did not have the same impact as Curry, and the Hoyas were far from unprepared. Smith-Rivera’s 25 points and a breakout game from then-junior center Bradley Hayes led the way as Georgetown held off a late comeback and won 84-74.
On paper, it made sense that the higher seed would have a relatively easy game. For fans familiar with the team’s tournament struggles, the win meant much more. Although Georgetown would go on to fall in a closely contested game against No. 5 seed Utah, the win helped break the streak of tournament upsets.
However, before the Hoyas broke through in the tournament, the team needed to figure out its player rotation and identity. Despite the loss of guard Markel Starks and forward Nate Lubick to graduation, the Hoyas had five upperclassmen ready to play regular minutes at the start of the 2014-15 season. Guard Jabril Trawick, forwards Mikael Hopkins and Aaron Bowen and center Joshua Smith led the way as the team’s four seniors while Smith-Rivera returned for his junior year.
Georgetown also had four freshmen capable of playing rotation minutes, with guard L.J. Peak leading the way as an opening-day starter. Three other then-freshmen — forwards Paul White and Isaac Copeland and guard Tre Campbell — rounded out the rest of the rotation, with then-sophomore forward Reggie Cameron and Hayes seeing occasional minutes.
The season started well with four straight wins, including an overtime thriller against then-No. 18 Florida. The early part of the season also included impressive individual moments, including White’s performance against the Gators, when he recorded 10 points, five rebounds and three steals.
“[My] best performance stat-wise might have been against Butler, but as far as my personal belief, I believe it’s probably against Florida down in the Battle of Atlantis in the Bahamas.” White said.
Despite its early success, the team still had flaws. Peak broke out in his first game, scoring 23 points on 100 percent shooting from the floor before dealing with inconsistency throughout the rest of the season. Smith-Rivera struggled through his first few games, and Hopkins and Smith were up-and-down in the frontcourt. As the team approached a game against then-No. 2 and eventual NCAA tournament runner-up Wisconsin in the Battle for Atlantis semifinals, it seemed like a potential blowout loss.
That blowout never happened. Although the Hoyas fell 68-65, Smith-Rivera excelled, posting 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting, including 5-of-6 from three-point range, showing why he was named Preseason Big East Player of the Year.
The next game, however, did not keep the momentum going. Georgetown fell to conference rival Butler in the third-place game 64-58. Still, the game revealed what the Hoyas’ young talent was capable of, as Copeland and White posted 16 and 13 points, respectively, combining to shoot an efficient 12-of-18 from the field.
As the team walked away empty-handed from the Battle for Atlantis, one thing was clear: The freshmen were ready to play, and Head Coach John Thompson III needed to figure out how to properly integrate them into the rotation.
“We were just thrown in the fire … kind of thrown in the mix,” Copeland said.
As the freshmen worked to find their place in the rotation, the team’s senior center made his presence known in a dominating fashion.
Smith, a transfer from UCLA who had to sit out the second half of his junior season due to academic ineligibility, posted 20 points and five rebounds against the then-No. 10 Kansas Jayhawks. Though the Hoyas would fall 75-70, much of the game was tightly contested, with Smith coming up with pivotal plays throughout the second half.
Despite the losses to Kansas and Wisconsin, Georgetown showed it had the talent to compete with the best teams in the nation. All that was left to do was win games. In an overtime shootout against Indiana at Madison Square Garden, it did exactly that.
Smith-Rivera led the way with another 29-point performance, while Bowen broke out for 22 points of his own as the Hoyas defeated the Hoosiers 91-87 in overtime in their last nonconference game.
As Georgetown’s Big East schedule began, it met particularly strong resistance from two conference rivals: Xavier and Providence. The Hoyas would lose every matchup with the Musketeers and the Friars, with then-senior Xavier center Matt Stainbrook and then-sophomore Providence guard Kris Dunn proving to be two of Georgetown’s toughest matchups. However, the Hoyas only lost two games to the rest of the teams in the Big East.
“The teams that are, I don’t want to say the bottom [of the conference standings], but the teams that don’t get as much appreciation are just as tough to battle night in and night out, because they’ve got some great players,” Smith-Rivera said.
Winning 12 games in last year’s Big East was no small feat. Six teams from the 10-team conference made the NCAA tournament’s final field of 68. One of those 12 conference wins particularly stood out.
In a 78-58 victory over bitter rival and then-No. 4 Villanova, several players had standout performances. Smith-Rivera, Trawick and Copeland led the way with double-digit scoring. At the end of the game, students stormed the court, garnering mostly negative attention for their alleged disrespect of the program’s tradition.
Still, the fire in the fans reflected the team’s improvement and potential. Thompson made some lineup adjustments to create a more settled rotation. After a series of strong performances, including a game-winning three pointer in a win over Butler, Copeland cemented his place as a starter, replacing Hopkins in the starting lineup. The Hoyas entered the Big East tournament as a top-25 team in the polls.
After beating Creighton in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, Georgetown lost to Xavier for the third time in the season, this time in the Big East tournament semifinals. However, the Hoyas still earned a No. 4 seed in the NCA A tournament.
“I mean, considering the season we had, it was really good. It was a great placement,” Smith-Rivera said.
Going into the tournament, the Hoyas were prepared, despite skepticism from pundits and fans alike, not to mention a confident Eastern Washington squad.
“I don’t think we have a team who is scared or intimidated by anyone. Our team is tough, we want to continue to be that way and we want to continue to play that way. I don’t think [Eastern Washington] felt as confident at the end of the game as they were before,” Smith-Rivera said.
After Smith-Rivera’s 25 points led the way to victory for Georgetown, the Hoyas faced fifth-seeded Utah, a team with two future NBA players, current Toronto Raptors guard Delon Wright and current sophomore center Jacob Poeltl, who is projected to be selected in the first round of next year’s draft. Georgetown fell 75-64, marking the sixth straight tournament that the Hoyas failed to reach the Sweet 16.
“We were disappointed,” Copeland said. “We felt like we could’ve made it to the Sweet 16. We should’ve made it. We were in positions to win that game and we lost it. We talk about that game almost every week.”
After the Utah game, four Hoyas walked off the court for the final time in a Georgetown uniform. Hopkins, Smith, Bowen and Trawick each played in all 33 of Georgetown’s games, each averaging at least 15 minutes and at least 5 points per game.
However, one of the most memorable moments of the season came from the fifth member of the senior class: Tyler Adams. Heavily recruited and highly touted coming out of high school, Adams was diagnosed with a rare heart disease that forced him to retire from basketball. Instead of rescinding his scholarship, Thompson gave Adams a role as an unofficial assistant coach. On senior day, Thompson received permission from the NCAA to let Adams suit up for one play. Inserted into the starting lineup against Seton Hall, Adams won the tip-off and dunked the ball for the last points of his college career. The Pirates, along with the entire Verizon Center crowd, gave Adams a standing ovation as he exited the game.
All told, the Hoyas won 22 games, finished second in the Big East and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Still, with several key players returning this season, Georgetown aims to improve even more.
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