Just six days after toppling then-No. 10 Virginia Commonwealth, the Georgetown men’s basketball team returned to its home court Saturday and flirted with a loss to a squad few college basketball fans could place on a map.
After letting Lipscomb slash an 11-point lead to one at halftime, the Hoyas finally flexed their muscle and considerable size advantage to stifle their opponents for six scoreless minutes and reel off 13 unanswered points to jump-start the second half.
From there, Georgetown rolled to a 70-49 victory, avoiding what would have been a second loss in nine days to a lightly regarded team. But the team’s casual approach at the outset raised questions about what the Hoyas learned from their humbling defeat to Northeastern in last week’s Puerto Rico Tipoff.
Shortly before Saturday’s game began, Georgetown Coach John Thompson III issued a statement acknowledging that junior forward Greg Whittington had been dismissed from the team. The 6-foot-8 Whittington hadn’t played for the Hoyas since Jan. 8, forced to sit out the remainder of last season for academic reasons. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament over the summer and, after undergoing knee surgery, wasn’t necessarily projected to return to the lineup this season, either.
Thompson declined in his postgame news conference to explain why Whittington was dismissed or comment on how his departure might affect the team in the future. The 2011 All-Met Player of the Year at Oakland Mills High averaged 12.1 points and seven rebounds in the 13 games he played as a Georgetown sophomore.
Though contested in the friendly confines of Verizon Center, Saturday’s game was met with plenty of grumbling from a sparse crowd of 8,165, weary of officials’ whistles and the Hoyas’ hapless shooting from beyond the three-point arc, where they missed 14 straight over one stretch.
Still, the outcome was what Georgetown fans paid to see, even if it did little to clarify the identity of a team that’s still learning how to win without Otto Porter Jr., last season’s leading scorer and rebounder, and with 6-10, 350-pound center Joshua Smith, who was showered with a standing ovation for his 14-point, five-rebound performance upon fouling out with 59 seconds remaining.
Sophomore D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera led the Hoyas in scoring (17 points), rebounding (eight) and assists (seven). Joining him and Smith in double figures was junior forward Mikael Hopkins, who managed all of his 13 points and seven rebounds in a second half fueled by the aggression Georgetown lacked in the first half.
Credit Jabril Trawick for supplying the spark, driving for baskets on consecutive possessions to open the period and rousing his teammates from their stupor in the process.
“I thought that overall they just were playing harder than we were; that’s the reason they were in the game,” Trawick said of the Bisons afterward. “So my mind-set in the second half was to come out and just bring the energy on both ends of the floor, be aggressive, try to get in the lanes and find my teammates.”
After hitting two three-pointers in the game’s first 90 seconds, the Hoyas proceeded to clang one shot off the rim after another. For a team with such a striking size advantage, it was a puzzling choice of tactics to contest the game from the perimeter. More than half of Georgetown’s first-half shots were three-pointers (16 of 31).
A flurry of early fouls by Georgetown slowed the action to a crawl and gave the Bisons an easy way to pare their deficit. Nashville-based Lipscomb (3-4) closed the first half on a 7-0 run, leaving Georgetown with a 27-26 lead at the break.
Thompson reverted to his starting lineup to open the second half, but Smith picked up his fourth foul (a technical) after just 42 seconds and sat again. He didn’t return until 7 minutes 33 seconds remained, bringing the crowd to its feet with three dunks in a five-minute span.
“He’s such a big guy and so skilled down there, you’re almost helpless,” Lipscomb Coach Casey Alexander said of Smith, who played 16 minutes. “Anytime he can get the ball with you behind him, you’re at his mercy.”