If Georgetown's Gene Smith had played more ruthless defense last night, he would have been charged with assault and battery. The small, superquick freshman reserve guard wore down and frustrated Villanova's entire guard corp with relentless pressure as the Hoyas subdued their Big East Conference opponent, 70-54, at McDonough Arena.
"It wasn't the team defense," said Hoya Coach John Thompson, "It was Gene Smith. He was the difference. He came to play more than any other player tonight. The teams that want to win, win in February. Gene Smith played tonight like he knew it was February. Everybody else played like it was December."
Georgetown's heavy scorers were Eric Floyd, who provided 25 points, and Mike Hancock, who tied his career high, with 18.
But it was Smith's infectious pressure that spread to his teammates and got the Hoyas thinking "prevent."
With Georgetown (14-8, 5-3 in the Big East) swarming and attacking the Wildcats (12-7, 5-4) with enough zones, presses and traps to make their heads woozy, Villanova forgot about its own tenacious defense that provided a one-point halftime advantage and succumbed to the Hoya fast break. The key, as all 4,504 screaming fans in McDonough knew, was Smith's defense.
"If you're playing with Gene," said Floyd, "you have to start concentrating on defense because you don't want to get left behind."
"Without Gene," said Thompson, "we would have been in trouble tonight."
Smith's effort can't be measured in statistics, except that he caused many of the Wildcats' 25 turnovers. But his teammates -- and the opposition -- realized how many shots he prevented, how many passes he cut off, how many plays he forced mistakes on.
"He's just aggressive," said Wildcat point guard Stewart Granger, who had no points and just two assists as he found Smith's body everywhere he turned, sometimes one step ahead of him.
"His defense helped get their transition game going in the second half," said Granger. "He could be one of the best, maybe even the best, defensive guard in the conference."
Smith's enthusiasm ignited an early second-half explosion in which the Hoyas outscored Villanova, 17-4, in a five-minute span to break out of a 33-33 tie. Floyd scored 10 of his 18 second-half points in that rally, several on some incredibly long jumpers.
"I was just letting the shot find me," said Floyd, who sank nine of 16 shots. "I was coming off the break and shooting as soon as I got the ball, before their defense could set up."
Both teams decided early that the way to win this game would be with defense. Rarely did a ball handler cross halfcourt within eight of the allotted 10 seconds. And nobody took a shot without first looking through three or four flailing hands. Bodies collided underneath the boards, but the officials let them play, as if this were a Big Ten game.
Only Hancock and the Wildcats' Mike Mulquin, formerly of Georgetown Prep, fought off the defenses in the first half. Hancock scored 10 points on five of seven shooting. The 6-7 Mulquin hit six of seven for 12 points.
It was his two straight jump shots near the end of the half that erased Georgetown's 24-21 lead. But Mulquin's game disappeared during intermission. He didn't score a basket in the second half until the Hoyas led, 63-47, with five minutes to play.
Georgetown held 6-9 center John Pinone, the conference's third leading scorer at 16 points per game, to 12 points on six of 15 shooting. The only Wildcat other than Mulquin to hit more than half his shots was Alex Bradley, who returned to the Villanova lineup after missing the last 11 games with a fractured right thumb. He made three of four, but, as a team, the Wildcats shot just 42 percent.
By contrast, Georgetown shot 55 percent overall, 63 percent in the second-half runaway.
Smith, from McKinley Tech, scored only three of his team's points, but he finally is playing in the role Thompson foresaw for him when he was the only. Division I coach to offer Smith a scholarship.
"I love to play defense," he said. "I think that's a strong phase of my game. Defense is a part of basketball that is overlooked often, but there's a lot of other things I have to work on."