Covering two star players proved to be too much for a defense that has struggled most of the season against elite guards, as the Georgetown men’s basketball team (13-9, 6-3 Big East) could not rally against No. 10 Providence (18-4, 6-3 Big East) in a home loss Saturday night. The Hoyas fell 73-69 and the Friars’ junior guard Kris Dunn finished with a game-high 26 points and four steals. His counterpart on the court and arguably the most improved player in the Big East, sophomore forward Ben Bentil, matched Dunn with 26 points, shooting 9-of-10 from the free-throw line.
Bentil’s free-throw shooting proved to be Georgetown’s undoing at the end of the game, highlighting a problem that has plagued the Hoyas for much of their season: fouling. Out of the 351 Division I teams, the Hoyas rank 328 in opposing free-throw rate — that is, the percentage of free throws attempted to field goals attempted. Georgetown, according to KenPom.com, comes in at 46 percent for the season. In other words, if an opponent takes 40 shots, Georgetown is likely to let them shoot nearly 20 free throws.
It is important to note that the excessive fouling is not because of what many fans claim be a refereeing problem. The Hoyas struggle to stay on their toes on defense, and often try to make up for getting beat by aggressively contesting shots — a tactic that leads to fouls against the defense more often than not.
Taking advantage of an eight-foul disparity, the Friars shot 20 more free throws than the Hoyas, knocking down 14-of-20. Not only would those points have been more than enough to cover Georgetown’s deficit, but removing them would also have helped break Dunn out of his rhythm even more.
Normally Dunn is a playmaker, racking up assists — he averages 6.9 on the season — but the Hoyas managed to slow down his passing. Bentil and his rebounding, however, were another story. The Friars’ forward pulled down nine boards and made the Hoyas pay down low, making five of his seven shots at the rim.
Still, despite the Hoyas’ fouling and inability to contain any aspect of Bentil’s game, they had their chance at the end. With senior guard and co-captain D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and sophomore guard L.J. Peak leading the charge with 18 and 19 points, respectively, the team drew within two points with just a few seconds left in the game after a deep three from Smith-Rivera.
In the last moments of the game, the Friars ran their inbound plays for Dunn or Bentil, and while the Hoyas denied Dunn, they may have been better off focusing on guarding Bentil. Fouling in late-game situations is all about picking the worst free-throw shooter to increase the odds of one or two misses.
Bentil, however, shoots 82 percent from the line on the season, in comparison to just 69 percent for Dunn. It was without a doubt that Providence Head Coach Ed Cooley was looking to hit Bentil and take advantage of the big man’s adept free-throw shooting late in the game.
“There’s no secret. Ben [Bentil] and Kris [Dunn] played well,” Cooley said in reference to his end-of-game strategy.
Throughout this season, the Hoyas have had many excuses made for them — be it poor coaching, injuries or inexperience — but it seems increasingly apparent that the Hoyas’ real problem thus far has simply been a lack of talent.
The Hoyas have had no defense against talented guards, from senior guard Rashun Davis of Radford, to junior guard Maurice Watson Jr. of Creighton, to sophomore guard Grayson Allen of Duke to junior guard Kris Dunn. From Davis’ 28 points and game-winner in the season opener to Dunn’s 26 points, four steals and late game heroics, opposing teams’ star guards have had their way with Georgetown’s defense.
Davis, Allen and Watson all recorded their career highs against the Hoyas’ defense, and the problem extends beyond just defensive schemes. Smith-Rivera lacks the overall lateral quickness to keep up with the speed of faster guards. Peak is foul prone, leaves his feet too often and recklessly closes out on shooters. Senior center and co-captain Bradley Hayes and freshman center Jessie Govan get beat on defense and then come down on guards when they fail to recover.
The Hoyas lost their two best perimeter defenders, Jabril Trawick (COL ’15) and Aaron Bowen (COL ’15), along with their most ardent rim protector, Joshua Smith, last season and have yet to find anything close to a suitable replacement for either position. Freshman guard Kaleb Johnson has his moments on defense, but he missed rebounds and free throws on Saturday. The team’s youths are likely to improve, but as of now, the Hoyas can rarely handle an elite guard.
Unfortunately, the team has no rest against stellar guard play, as the Hoyas will face off against senior guard Kellen Dunham and the Butler Bulldogs (14-7, 3-6 Big East) on Tuesday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m., and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.
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