Georgetown basketball hopes turnaround continues vs. Butler


Markel Starks, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Georgetown have brighter NCAA tournament hopes than they did just a week ago. (Nate Shron/Getty Images)

During his team’s recent five-game slide,Georgetown Coach John Thompson III repeated the same message about having no doubts the Hoyas would extricate themselves from those unpleasant circumstances.

Not once did Thompson waver in that reassurance or qualify his remarks with “might” or “hope.” He instead promised a return to form, and these days, Georgetown’s NCAA tournament prospects indeed are brighter than they were just a week ago.

The Hoyas (13-9, 4-6 Big East) enter Saturday afternoon’s game against Butler at Verizon Center having won two in a row, including last weekend’s 64-60 victory over Michigan State, then ranked seventh, in what was a potentially season-saving performance at Madison Square Garden.

“We’re still in a hole,” Thompson said. “We’re still trying to crawl out of the hole, quite honestly. Not to sound like we’re making excuses, but when you have so much change in the middle of the season, it’s hard. I think the guys, through it all, I think we’ve competed.”

Georgetown followed its second win against a top 10 team this season by pulling away from DePaul on Monday night, 71-59, and on top of that has a roster as complete and as healthy as it’s going to get this season. Guard Jabril Trawick, for instance, scored 15 points against the Blue Demons in the junior’s most productive outing since breaking his jaw Jan. 8 and missing the next five games.

Also promising for the Hoyas’ tournament aspirations is a schedule in the immediate future that’s considerably more forgiving than what they endured to close last month and begin this one. That cluster of games comprised No. 12 Creighton, No. 6 Villanova and the Spartans.

“I think we’re capable of making a big run,” said Trawick, who missed the first game against Butler on Jan. 11, when Georgetown escaped in overtime, 70-67, at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse despite two starting forwards and a backup center fouling out.

The Bulldogs (12-10, 2-8) since have lost four of six and are tied for last place in the Big East. They have lost five of six on the road this season during their first year as a member of the conference.

Butler represents the second leg for Georgetown during a stretch of four of five games against teams with losing records in the Big East. After the Bulldogs, Georgetown faces Providence (6-4 Big East), which has lost three in a row but remains in third place in the conference, St. John’s (4-6) and Seton Hall (4-5).

The Hoyas already own a 77-60 win over St. John’s at Verizon Center on Jan 4. Seton Hall, meantime, is a half-game in front of Georgetown for sixth place in the Big East. The Hoyas lost to Seton Hall, 67-57, at Verizon Center on Jan. 18 during which the Hoyas’ starting back court of Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera combined to miss 17 of 24 shots.

Smith-Rivera, in particular, has been in a shooting funk since that time, having made half of his field goal attempts just once over the last six games. Since an 80-72 loss to Marquette in overtime Jan. 20 at Verizon Center, the sophomore has shot 13 for 52, including 3 for 11 during Monday’s 71-59 win against DePaul.

While his shooting has been off the mark recently, Smith-Rivera has been productive at the foul line, having missed just once in 33 attempts in the last five games. Smith-Rivera leads Georgetown in free throws made and attempted and is tied with Starks for the team lead in points (16.8) and for sixth in the Big East in scoring.

“It’s nothing I’ve thought about,” Smith-Rivera said when asked if his wayward shooting of late was attributable to a mechanical flaw in his release. “I mean it’s in the past. I’ll shoot it again tomorrow, so that doesn’t affect me.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering many local and national beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He joined The Washington Post sports department in 1990 as a member of the high school staff and worked as a copy editor and assignment editor for almost 19 years.
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