Against Kansas State, which had lost to Charlotte in the first round, the Hoyas did just about everything they failed to do against Northeastern. They flexed their considerable front-court muscle, outscoring the Wildcats 48-18 in the paint, and they took care of the ball, committing just seven turnovers while forcing Kansas State to cough it up 16 times.
And they took smart, unselfish shots, with 19 assists on 33 made baskets. Leading the scoring for a second consecutive game was sophomore D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who finished with 25 points and was a sterling 9 for 9 from the free throw line. Jabril Trawick (16 points), Joshua Smith (13) and Markel Starks (11) joined him in double figures.
“Yesterday was horrible. Horrible,” Coach John Thompson III said afterward. “I think, I hope, I pray that today is more indicative of who we are.”
With the victory, Georgetown (2-2) advanced to Sunday’s fifth-place game against Virginia Commonwealth (4-1), a 73-67 victor over Long Beach State (1-5). The game will reprise the teams’ first-round meeting in the 2011 NCAA tournament, which VCU won in a rout, 74-56, spurring its stirring Final Four run.
Until Thursday’s 63-56 loss to Northeastern, no Georgetown squad had started the season 1-2 in the decade since Thompson arrived on the Hilltop. The Hoyas had a major hand in the upset, squandering a 14-point lead during a 7-minute 14-second scoring drought in the second half, utterly stymied by Northeastern’s 3-2 zone defense.
A sparse crowd turned out Friday to watch two of the tournament’s more notable underachievers face off. But the Hoyas pounced on Kansas State (2-3) as if a national TV audience had tuned in and an NCAA tournament berth were at stake.
“We knew we had to be more aggressive,” said Smith, who was 6 for 7 from the field and added two rebounds and two assists in 15 minutes of work.
Three minutes into the game, Georgetown led 10-0, with Starks, the senior point guard, making his opening three-pointer and outfoxing a Wildcats defender in a crafty drive for a layup.
Smith picked up his second foul at the 12:14 mark but made his minutes count. He was active on defense, hit Aaron Bowen with a nice pass for an easy layup and followed with a dunk that made it 16-8.
Through the first 10 minutes, Georgetown had six assists and no turnovers, while Kansas State had nearly the exact opposite: no assists and six turnovers.
With his team trailing 24-12, Kansas State Coach Bruce Weber bellowed: “Keep our poise! Keep our poise!” But his Wildcats were a shot-spraying bunch, hitting just 25 percent from the field and flummoxed by Georgetown’s offense.
Afterward, Weber offered insight into why his Wildcats got their “butts kicked,” in his words: His players weren’t as comfortable playing zone defense as man-to man, which isn’t effective on players such as the 6-foot-10, 350-pound Smith; some had never seen the Princeton offense that Georgetown runs; and his freshmen didn’t fully grasp the wisdom of making an extra pass.
“This is a final exam before you really got to study,” Weber said of the tournament. “This weekend we’re learning a lot about ourselves, and we’re probably flunking the exam right now. We’ll see if we can’t get something done on Sunday.”
After taking a 45-28 lead at the break, Georgetown kept its intensity up in the second half.
“Our overall attention to detail was much better,” Thompson said. “Our overall willingness to help each other at both ends of the court was much better today. Our mind-set was much closer today to where it has to be.”
Up by 18 with just less than five minutes remaining, the Hoyas closed on a 14-5 run.
“Unfortunately we had to suffer that loss yesterday,” Smith-Rivera said, “but that can’t be what motivates us to win games.”