MEN'S BASKETBALL | No. 9 Villanova Squeezes Past GU
Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 02:01
Despite playing one of its most promising 40-minute stretches of basketball this season, Georgetown (11-9, 3-6 Big East) dropped its fifth straight game, a 65-60 decision to No. 9 Villanova (18-2, 7-1 Big East), on Monday night.
“We’ve got to go out and play,” senior guard Markel Starks said.
Starks keyed an early run for the Hoyas, who jumped out to an 8-0 advantage in front of a packed house at Verizon Center. The guard was an offensive highlight all night, finishing with 20 points and breaking the 1,000-career point mark at Georgetown.
“It means a lot [to reach the 1,000-point mark],” Starks said. “I’ve wanted to come to Georgetown my whole life.”
Jay Wright and the Wildcats ruined what could have been a special night for Starks. After the Hoyas jumped out to an early lead, Villanova rattled off a 9-0 run of its own to take control of the game, relying on an aggressive press to generate points off turnovers.
“That’s what they do,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “They play the ball hard and leave skips open. They almost invite you to throw those passes, so we did.”
The teams battled evenly throughout the rest of the half and headed into the locker rooms with almost identical numbers and an easily surmountable five-point lead for the Wildcats. Georgetown clawed its way back early in the second half, eventually taking the lead on a pair of Starks’ free throws with 14:20 left in the game.
But the lead proved to be short-lived, and the Hoyas trailed for the remainder of the game. Although Georgetown kept the game within striking distance — its largest second-half deficit before desperation fouling was only five points — the Hoyas could never quite break through.
After shooting 55 percent from the field in the first half, the Hoyas shot 38 percent in the second half, including 18 percent from beyond the arc. Sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera was particularly flat, shooting 2-of-10 from the field, missing all six of his attempts from beyond the arc and finishing with eight points, his third-lowest total of the season.
“This game was different [than previous losses] because, for the most part, we got open shots for the people we wanted to get open shots for,” Thompson said. “This is one of those days the ball just didn’t go in. We got open looks for the people we wanted.”
Junior guard Jabril Trawick, who broke his jaw in the Providence game, returned to action, scoring his only three points on a desperation heave as the shot clock expired. An overexcited Trawick committed three turnovers and three fouls in just 12 minutes of playing time.
“Jabril hasn’t done anything since he got back, other than some conditioning,” Thompson said. “He is far from being 100 percent, but having him out there gives us some much-needed depth on the perimeter.”
Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright seems to agree that Trawick’s presence can really boost the Hoyas. Wright, straddling the line between courtesy and truth, offered his sympathies for Georgetown’s shorthanded roster. His refrain has become a common one for the victorious, visiting coaches.
“They’re missing two starters, but they’re competing in every game,” Wright said. “It’s such a fine line between winning and losing, and it’s amazing they’re doing what they’re doing. When Trawick gets back [fully], they’re going to get going.”
But in a fitting twist for the Hoyas, Trawick’s presence was met by senior forward Moses Ayegba’s absence. Ayegba was suspended one game by the NCAA in an incident related to a suspension he received his freshman year, in which a former high school coach bought Ayegba a plane ticket to return home for Christmas before the big man was even recruited by Georgetown.
Despite an uneven roster, Georgetown turned in its best defensive performances in its last two games against Villanova and Creighton — something Thompson fully expects from his squad.
“The last two teams we played were two of the best offensive teams in the country — not just our league — and one thing we’ve done is defend for key stretches,” Thompson said.
But the Hoyas’ inability to get to the free-throw line proved to be the difference in the game. In fact, the disparity in foul shots — 28 for Villanova compared to nine for Georgetown — was the only significant difference in the box score.
“On top of a lot of other things, we have to evaluate [free throw disparity],” Thompson said. “This year, we’re getting penetration and driving to the paint … but not getting fouls called. We have to get to the line.”
Once again, Georgetown faltered down the stretch, and its only field goal in the final two minutes — a Starks layup — came with just a few seconds remaining and the game well out of hand.
“We’re in a hole,” Thompson said. “The kids competed, and they’re going to compete and stay together. Collectively, we’re going to get out of this hole.”
The team needs to find a formula for success if it wants to avoid the longest losing streak under Thompson at Georgetown. Unfortunately, it won’t be easy against No. 7 Michigan State (18-2, 7-1 Big 10). The Hoyas will face off against the Spartans on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Tipoff is slated for 3 p.m., and the game will air on Fox Sports 1.