The new-look Big East chose New Year’s Eve to stage its coming out party, with all 10 teams featured in a 12-hour blitz of back-to-back games aired on Fox Sports 1. Georgetown’s opener against DePaul was hardly the marquee matchup among them.
While Georgetown finished last season as co-champions of the former Big East, DePaul finished at the bottom of the standings for a fifth consecutive year. Moreover, DePaul hasn’t had a winning season since 2006-07 and had lost its past 12 meetings with Georgetown.
So there was ample reason for fans at Verizon Center to believe they could pop the cork on the Hoyas’ feel-good opener at halftime. Instead, they got a nail-biter, with Georgetown surviving 13 first-half turnovers and a nearly five-minute scoring drought to pull out a 61-54 victory.
Senior co-captain Markel Starks jolted the Hoyas from a desultory first-half stretch and finished with a game-high 21 points, including an 8-of-8 showing on the free throw line. Fellow guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, the only other Hoya in double figures, added 12 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
While the game exposed the inconsistency of Georgetown’s starters, 6-foot-10 transfer Joshua Smith in particular, it also showcased the potential of lightly used reserves Aaron Bowen (eight points, six rebounds) and Moses Ayegba (three blocks), who came off the bench for clutch baskets and defensive stops at critical junctures.
“We needed those guys to come in with an infusion of energy,” said Coach John Thompson III, whose Hoyas improve to 9-3, 1-0.
DePaul (8-6, 0-1) boasts a starting lineup bigger than Georgetown’s; it has three players 6-8 or taller. But the Hoyas’ front court dominated at the outset, working the ball inside to Smith and Nate Lubick (three points, seven rebounds, three assists) for easy baskets on their first two possessions, while DePaul turned it over on its first two trips down the court.
But after the opening minutes, Smith turned the ball over more times than he put it in the basket.
As a result, he got just four minutes’ playing-time in the second half, finishing with five points, three turnovers and one rebound.
“If he’s not productive,” Thompson said of Smith, “we have other guys we can put in there.”
DePaul’s sloppy play continued, and Georgetown slumped to the Blue Demons’ level, stringing together a series of empty possessions on turnovers and off-target shots. After nearly nine minutes, DePaul had made one field goal and Georgetown four.
Starks snapped a 4 minute 48 seconds scoreless drought, hitting his first jumper to put Georgetown up, 10-6.
A flagrant foul by Mikael Hopkins sent DePaul’s Brandon Young to the line with a chance to knot the score. Young missed his second free throw, but DePaul scored off the miss to take its first lead with 7:50 remaining in the half.
None of this pleased the crowd of 7,823, which included Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman. And the grumbling grew louder when Smith and Lubick missed point-blank layups in succession and the Hoyas’ turnovers mounted.
DePaul feasted on the giveaways, reeling off 12 unanswered points to surge ahead, 20-13.
Once again, Starks stemmed the bleeding, hitting a jumper and becoming the first Hoya to get to the free throw line with 3:08 to play in the first half.
The spark was infectious.
Jabril Trawick stripped the ball and raced for a layup to pull the Hoyas within four. Smith-Rivera hit from long range to retake the lead. And Bowen flew in for a reverse, while Ayegba brought beleaguered Hoya fans to their feet with a resounding block.
Bowen closed the half with a flourish, heaving a no-look prayer and falling on his back as the buzzer sounded and the ball swished through the net. It capped a 13-2 run, putting the Hoyas up 29-25 at the half.
Georgetown came out more focused and disciplined in the second period. Still, the Hoyas struggled to slow DePaul’s fast breaks without fouling.
The Blue Demons pulled within 40-38, but squandered multiple chances to reclaim the lead in the waning minutes, hitting just 3 of 13 from the free throw line down the stretch.
Said DePaul Coach Oliver Purnell, “We just shot ourselves in the foot time and again at the line, not making the game closer.”