Statistics usually give a fairly accurate indication of how a game played out: who won, who lost, whether it was close or not — the list goes on. With 2:32 left in the game against Creighton University (14-7, 5-3 Big East), the Georgetown men’s basketball team (13-8, 6-2 Big East) trailed 70-59 and had a 0.7 percent chance of winning the game. Closing the game on a 15-3 run with seven points in the final 92 seconds from senior guard and co-captain D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, the Hoyas executed a nearly impossible comeback to win 74-73.
Statistics definitely do not tell the full story here. The Bluejays’ junior guard and star, Maurice Watson Jr., finished with the game with 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but his play at the end was a far cry from his impressive numbers on the stat sheet.
With the game seemingly out of reach, and senior center and co-captain Bradley Hayes and freshman center Jessie Govan riding the bench with foul trouble — Govan ended up fouling out midway through the second half — the team had no answers for Watson’s playmaking ability.
Time after time, Watson blew by every defender the Hoyas threw at him. Georgetown’s student section was deflated, and was headed for the exits along with the regular fans. But the Hoyas made some key changes, instituting a stifling full-court press and substituting freshman guard Kaleb Johnson and senior guard Riyan Williams into the game for added defensive pressure.
Creighton did miss its share of open looks, but the two Georgetown reserve guards contributed in big ways. Williams rebounded a missed shot and took it coast-to-coast, drawing the foul and then hitting a free throw to bring the team within seven points. What happened next can only be described as a clutch play from Georgetown’s star.
“There was a lot of adversity coming from a lot of different angles throughout the game, and I liked the way we kept fighting and kept plugging. Every single person made a play and that’s how we have to be,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “And at the end of the day [No. 4 Smith-Rivera] is No. 4.”
Smith-Rivera had been quiet all game, shooting 4-of-11 from the field and attempting just two free throws. But the senior guard has garnered a reputation of taking over in late-game moments. At the end of the game, opposing players tend to jump and overplay on defense in anticipation of ball fakes and quick movements. Smith-Rivera, however, stays low to the ground, playing with pace and control. While Tuesday’s win is the most recent iteration of the guard’s incredible body control and command of the floor, the senior co-captain has often gotten to the basket near the end of games.
In the closing moments of games, coaches, pundits and fans alike all agree that free throws are the most efficient way of scoring. Not only do free throws stop the clock, they are completely uncontested and also exacerbate any foul trouble for the opponent. With his 83 percent average from the free throw line, Smith-Rivera drawing a foul is almost an automatic two points — and it was his free-throw shooting that ultimately won this game for the Hoyas.
After missing his one previous free throw during the game with 1:32 left, Smith-Rivera got the ball right back off an offensive rebound and laid it in, cutting the Creighton lead to five. Sophomore guard L.J. Peak then cleanly stole the ball, leading to two more free throws for Smith-Rivera, making it 71-68 with the Hoyas down three.
What happened next could very well be the defining play of the Hoyas’ season. A team shooting 42 percent from the field and 29 percent from three-point range rarely wins the game. But as Johnson jumped to cut off a speedy Watson and swiped the ball, Georgetown was given life. The freshman stole the ball and threw it down for a dunk at the other end that sent the Verizon Center into a frenzy.
Following the trading of a Hoyas’ basket with two Bluejays’ free throws, Creighton missed both of its free throws on the next possession. Peak grabbed the rebound and let Smith-Rivera take over with 23 seconds left. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Hoyas’ leader forced the referees to decide the game with their whistle when he drove into the lane. Smith-Rivera did not just attack the lane hoping to get bailed out by the referees; he attacked looking to score and was met by ample resistance. The home crowd visibly on edge, Smith-Rivera stepped to the free-throw line. With the Hoyas down one point and six seconds remaining, Smith-Rivera might have been the only calm one at Verizon Center.
“I didn’t really think about it too much. I shoot every day,” Smith-Rivera said.
The Hoyas sealed an improbable comeback with tough defense and a defensive rebound from Peak — and are still lurking on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Creighton ranks somewhere in the top 40 teams in most polls, and beating a team of such caliber will help Georgetown’s chances before the Selection Committee.
Now tied for second in the Big East, the Hoyas have the chance to improve their record to 7-2 against the No. 10 Providence Friars (17-4, 5-3 Big East) at home on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 8 p.m. and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.
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