OMAHA — Georgetown point guard Markel Starks sat at the podium late Saturday night in the recesses of CenturyLink Center, fielding questions about the Hoyas’ four-game slide following a 76-63 loss to Creighton.
The senior’s replies were curt and delivered with an almost defiant tone, but the message was unmistakable: The Hoyas will recover, somehow, some way.
“Just stay together,” Starks said after his game-high 21 points were unable to prevent the team’s fifth loss in six games and sixth in 10.
With that, Starks and the rest of the Hoyas boarded the team bus to the airport for their flight back to the District and the first of three short turnarounds in a season fast deteriorating. Georgetown’s next game is Monday night, less than 48 hours later, against fourth-ranked Villanova, which has won six of seven to remain a half-game behind the Bluejays for first place in the Big East standings.
Not even midway through its conference schedule, Georgetown (11-8, 3-5 Big East) is precariously close to becoming an afterthought for the NCAA tournament. It is playing with a roster minus two starters and getting virtually no production from its reserves.
The schedule isn’t doing the Hoyas any favors either. After the Wildcats, Georgetown will face No. 3 Michigan State at Madison Square Garden the day before the first outdoor cold-weather Super Bowl a few miles away in East Rutherford, N.J. Then the Hoyas will board a plane and fly directly to Chicago for their game Feb. 3 against DePaul, marking consecutive weeks the Hoyas play on limited rest.
“We’re in a bad place, and we’ve got to figure out how to get out of this bad place,” said Hoyas Coach John Thompson III, who has not lost five in a row since the 2010-11 season. “We’re not at the halfway point of the conference season yet. We’re eight games into an 18-game season, so there’s time. We have to figure out adjustments, changes — some big, some small — on how this group is going to win.”
For Thompson, the tinkering process has yielded nominal results, especially from Georgetown’s backups. The Hoyas had a season-low two bench points against Creighton one game after their reserves totaled eight in an 80-72 overtime loss to Marquette.
Without center Joshua Smith and guard Jabril Trawick, Thompson has had few alternatives other than to concede significantly larger roles to regular backups such as Aaron Bowen and Moses Ayegba and play seldom-used reserves John Caprio and Stephen Domingo.
Bowen logged a career-high 31 minutes against the Bluejays, finishing with two points on 1-for-4 shooting. Caprio played a career-high 22 minutes and scored two points against Marquette.
“That group that’s in that locker room, we can still win,” Thompson said. “Everyone has to give a little more. Everyone has to be a little better. We have to do it together.”
Smith has been ruled out for the rest of the season because of an ongoing academic issue. The announcement came Friday afternoon before Georgetown made the trip to Omaha to face the Big East’s leader in points, scoring margin and field goal percentage.
The Hoyas limited two-time all-American Doug McDermott, the conference’s scoring leader, to 14 points, more than 10 below his average, but Creighton had four other players score at least 10 and received 25 points from its bench. The most points Georgetown has had from its reserves over the past four games is 15.
Over that time, that lack of bench production also has compelled Thompson to play Starks and sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera nearly every minute of every game.
They have combined for 400 out of 410 minutes in five games, and even though Thompson has called that amount of playing time unsustainable, the Hoyas’ top two scorers are prepared to continue on that path at least until Trawick becomes available.
Trawick broke his jaw Jan. 8 in a 70-52 loss to Providence and is out at least several more weeks, Thompson said recently.
“We’ve got to find our way out of this,” Starks said, “and we will.”