Markel Starks, the most indispensable player on the Georgetown men’s basketball team, was down on the court at Verizon Center on Monday night clutching his left knee.
The silence in the building was in sharp contrast to the booming decibel level moments earlier, when the point guard sank a floater in the lane that put the Hoyas ahead to stay late in the second half of a come-from-behind 83-71 victory over Providence in front of 8,063.
But not even a hard collision was going to keep the senior averaging nearly 40 minutes out of the rest of this game. Not with a chance for Georgetown to get back to .500 in the Big East and beat an opponent with a winning record in the conference for the first time this season.
Starks (14 points) sat on the bench only briefly before popping out of his chair and re-entering to a standing ovation, and the Hoyas (15-9, 6-6 Big East) didn’t miss a step from there, winning for a fourth straight time and providing even more optimism an NCAA tournament berth is within reach rather than a long shot after a midseason five-game slide.
“That’s something we rely on Markel to do night in and night out,” said Hoyas senior forward Nate Lubick, who had eight points on 4-for-6 shooting with six rebounds, two assists and two blocks. He also drew three charges. “He’s going to do so much for us on the offensive end, but also chasing guys around like a mad man.
“I don’t personally know how he does it.”
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera led Georgetown in scoring with 22 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including 2 of 4 from three-point range. The sophomore guard had missed 17 straight three-point attempts over four-plus games before making one in the first half against the Friars, who got 31 points from senior guard Bryce Cotton.
In reaching .500 in the conference for the first time since Jan. 18, the Hoyas shot 54 percent in the second half, committed just five turnovers to match a season low and owned a 20-4 margin in bench scoring.
Georgetown had four players score in double figures and collectively made 24 of 30 free throws, including 17 of 19 in the second half when it scored 51 points, marking the first time the Hoyas have reached at least 50 in a half in Big East play.
“It’s good for the time being, but we’re not content with it,” Smith-Rivera said of getting to .500 in the Big East and moving into a tie for fourth place.
Georgetown, which beat its longtime Big East rival for the ninth time in 10 games, opened the second half by getting five straight points from Reggie Cameron. The freshman forward pump-faked and stepped inside the three-point line to sink a jumper before making a three-pointer following an offensive rebound by junior forward-center Mikael Hopkins, who passed to his teammate for the open look.
Georgetown reclaimed the lead, 45-43, with 13 minutes 54 seconds to play when reserve center Moses Ayegba scored inside and guard Jabril Trawick (12 points, three rebounds), made two free throws.
Trawick, formerly a starter, has been coming off the bench the last five games since breaking his jaw Jan. 8 in the first meeting against Providence, a 70-52 loss at Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
The Friars (16-9, 6-6) countered right away. Cotton made a three-pointer to give back the lead to Providence, and after Josh Fortune stole the ball and missed a layup, Kadeem Betts was there for the putback while getting fouled. His bonus free throw extended the Friars’ lead to 49-45.
Smith-Rivera (five rebounds, five assists, no turnovers) drew the Hoyas within two with a jumper in the lane, but Providence scored the next five, culminating in two foul shots from Cotton for a 54-47 lead with 10:25 to play.
Georgetown rallied behind an 11-3 run that began with Starks sinking a three-pointer and closing with his floater in the lane to put Georgetown ahead to stay at 6:39. That’s also when he remained on the court before getting up and gingerly walking to the bench.
“He competes. He wants to win,” Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said of Starks, adding he didn’t think the injury was serious. “He does a very good job of directing traffic out there.”