PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Playing without its starting center for its first Big East road game this season, the Georgetown men’s basketball team fell behind early and never recovered in a 70-52 loss to last-place Providence on Wednesday night in front of 9,187 at Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
The Hoyas (10-4, 2-1 Big East) lost for just the second time in 11 games and had a three-game winning streak halted. They also lost for the first time to Providence after winning eight in a row against their longtime conference foe, which had dropped both of its previous Big East games.
“We were kind of stumbling along in the first half, and they slowly gained confidence, gained momentum,” Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. “We came up against a team that’s lost a couple in a row, had some bad breaks, and they came out and made the plays to win the game. We didn’t.”
In losing to the Friars (11-5, 1-2) for the first time since 2005, Georgetown scored its fewest points this season. The Hoyas shot a shade below 40 percent, committed 15 turnovers and had their starting front court of Nate Lubick and Moses Ayegba combine for six points in 49 minutes to begin a season-high three-game road swing.
Ayegba started at center because regular starter Joshua Smith was unavailable. The junior did not make the trip with the team, instead remaining in the District to try to resolve an academic issue, according to Georgetown officials, who made the announcement shortly before tip-off.
Smith is Georgetown’s third- leading scorer (11.5), fourth in rebounds (3.4) and leads the conference in field goal percentage (65.5 percent).
The transfer from UCLA had played in all 13 games this season.
“I think the group that we have in the locker room right there is more than capable of playing better than we did today, whether Josh is here or not,” Thompson said.
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera led Georgetown with 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting. The sophomore guard made 2 of 3 three-pointers, 5 of 6 foul shots and had five rebounds and two steals. Senior guard Markel Starks (12 points) was the only other Georgetown player to reach double figures.
Providence had four players with at least 10 points, including a game-high 21 from senior forward Kadeem Batts. The Friars also got 20 points and a game-high seven assists from senior guard Bryce Cotton, who is second in the Big East in scoring and first in assists.
The closest Georgetown came in the second half was 37-34 with 15 minutes 18 seconds left. Providence came right back with consecutive three-pointers by guard Josh Fortune (13 points), the second of which compelled Thompson III to call timeout with 13:38 to play.
Rather than regrouping during the stoppage, the Hoyas yielded eight consecutive points, four of which came from Batts. Then when Fortune spotted up on the left just inside the three-point arc and swished a jumper, the lead had expanded to 51-34 with 10:21 left.
The Hoyas countered with defensive gusto and leaned on Smith-Rivera for scoring. Georgetown did not allow a point nearly six minutes after Fortune’s basket, and Smith-Rivera accounted for six points during a 9-3 rush that brought the Hoyas within 54-43 with 4:43 to play.
But soon after, LaDontae Henton sank back-to-back three-pointer, and Providence had reclaimed a comfortable buffer, 62-45, with 3:31 left.
Without Smith, a 6-foot-10, 350-pounder who helps patrol the interior, Georgetown came out with ragged showings on both ends.
The Hoyas did not record their first basket until more than five minutes had elapsed, and for most of the first half they had more turnovers than field goals.
The sloppy beginning allowed Providence to construct a double-digit lead with just more than 11 minutes left in the half. The Hoyas tied it at 21, but Fortune’s layup to beat the halftime buzzer made it 28-23.
“I think [the Hoyas playing without Smith] definitely changed their lineup a little bit,” said Providence Coach Ed Cooley. “So it changed it, but at the end of the day I’m proud of the way our kids played.”