In dire need of fortifying its NCAA tournament credentials with the regular season drawing to an end, the Georgetown men’s basketball team continued to make the case it belongs at least in the conversation with a 75-63 victory over 13th-ranked Creighton on Tuesday evening at Verizon Center.
Fitting, too, on senior night it was Markel Starks who practically willed the Hoyas to their second victory in three games after Creighton sliced a 16-point deficit early in the second half to five with 90 seconds remaining.
From that point, Starks delivered a pass to senior forward Aaron Bowen for a layup, made a key steal to deny the Bluejays an important possession and made two free throws to extend the lead to nine in the closing seconds in front of 12,105 who rewarded Georgetown’s five seniors with a standing ovation.
In the last home game of his decorated career, Starks finished with 17 points, a career-high 11 assists and three steals with one turnover. Before he walked off the court for the final time, Starks turned to a throng of supporters, raised both arms and acknowledged through tears the lengthy applause.
It had been Starks’s dream to play for Georgetown since he said he can remember. He hardly could have scripted a more emotionally satisfying conclusion to his career in the finale.
“The more and more I talk about it, the more sentimental I’m going to be,” said Starks, whose path to the Hilltop included four years of high school at Georgetown Prep. “I worked my entire life to get here, and for that to be the last home game in a Georgetown uniform, it’s emotional.”
Sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera added a team-high 18 points and career-high 12 rebounds for the Hoyas, who shot 54 percent, including 62 percent in the first half on the way to a 42-28 lead. Junior swingman Jabril Trawick chipped in with 15 points and seven rebounds after missing the first meeting between the teams — when Georgetown lost, 76-63, in Omaha — with a broken jaw.
This time, Trawick was among three defenders charged with shadowing Creighton senior forward Doug McDermott. The nation’s leading scorer and top candidate for national player of the year began by missing 12 of his first 18 shots with junior Mikael Hopkins and senior Bowen also taking turns playing defense.
McDermott ended with a game-high 22 points but required 23 shots, and the Bluejays shot a shade below 40 percent overall in losing two games in a row for the first time this season. In two games against Georgetown (17-12, 8-9 Big East), McDermott, who entered shooting 52 percent from the field, has missed 24 of 38 shots.
“I thought we did an outstanding job on him,” said Thompson, whose team collected its third win over a ranked foe this season. “And he ends up with 22 points. The few times you make a mistake, the few times you fall asleep, bam, bam, bam he’s getting buckets in a row, so it has to be a group effort. You just have to try to match his energy.”
The Hoyas did just that, beginning shortly after tip-off, scoring seven in a row and then making three straight three-pointers to force Creighton to chase the rest of the way.
The lead swelled to 44-28 with 27 seconds into the second half when Hopkins (10 points, career-high five blocks) converted a layup, and the margin remained in double figures until McDermott’s three-pointer with 8:20 to play. The Bluejays (23-6, 13-4) twice thereafter got within five, but Georgetown stiffened each time.
“Me and Markel, since the first day I got here, we’ve had our ups and downs,” Smith-Rivera said. “It was a lot for me, but playing alongside somebody who understands what you’re trying to get accomplished, what you want to do, he’s helped me a lot. I’ve learned from him how to conduct myself as a player, so today it was really big for us. It was big for me. It was big for him, for all the seniors.”