Georgetown strode into Milwaukee for its Big East opener last month on a seven-game winning streak and ranked 15th in the nation, only to come away with a 49-48 loss to Marquette and heaps of regret. The Hoyas had a chance to force overtime when Greg Whittington was fouled on a three-point attempt with 2.3 seconds remaining. The 6-foot-8 sophomore hit his first two free throws but clanged the third off the rim.
Shaky free throw shooting was only one factor in a defeat that highlighted nearly a half-dozen things Georgetown needed to improve if it expected to contend in the Big East.
Nearly six weeks later, Monday’s rematch pitting 20th-ranked Georgetown (17-4, 7-3) against No. 24 Marquette (17-5, 8-2) represents an occasion for taking stock of how the Hoyas have addressed their early-season shortcomings.
“Hopefully we’ve learned from that experience,” said junior guard Markel Starks, who scored a game-high 18 points in the loss at Marquette. “Everybody has been working extremely hard. Looking back, we played a tough game but came up short. And moving forward, I think we have gone on to make the proper adjustments.”
●Rebounding: Marquette crushed Georgetown on the boards, 35-26, when the teams met Jan. 5. The Hoyas managed just six offensive rebounds. Of their 26 total, Whittington and Otto Porter Jr. accounted for 14.
This is one area in which Georgetown has made strides, with its guards shouldering more of the load. That’s imperative, given that Whittington has been ruled ineligible to compete.
●Bench production: Georgetown didn’t get a single point from its bench in the loss at Marquette. Only two reserves, Jabril Trawick and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, got any playing time at all.
Over the last five games, Georgetown’s bench has averaged 13.2 points per outing. Smith-Rivera has emerged as a sorely needed shooting threat. In the front court, 6-foot-9 Moses Ayegba has contributed valuable minutes. And walk-on John Caprio was arguably the most valuable player in the Hoyas’ Jan. 30 victory over Seton Hall, coming off the bench to shore up a lead that was fast slipping away.
Said Coach John Thompson III: “Obviously Greg [Whittington] is not part of our equation as it relates to games right now, but we’ve had a lot of people step up in his absence. Hopefully we’re going to be a better team tomorrow than we were . . . in Milwaukee.”
●Defense: After holding Marquette to 26 percent shooting in the first half of their Big East opener, the Hoyas eased up on defense in the second half and paid dearly. The Golden Eagles shot 53 percent after the break.
Since then Georgetown has done a better job of closing games. Saturday’s 69-63 victory at Rutgers is a case in point. After allowing the Scarlet Knights to shoot 53 percent in the first half, Georgetown allowed just 30 percent in the second half. Nate Lubick fouled out in the process, however, and Mikael Hopkins and Trawick labored with four fouls each.
●Post presence: At 6-8 and 290 pounds, Marquette’s Davante Gardner was a handful for the Hoyas last month, sharing the team lead with 12 points while wearing down Hopkins and Lubick.
Georgetown hasn’t made Gardner any less of a threat in the past six weeks. But the Hoyas have another big body to call on in Ayegba, should the fouls start piling up on the Hoyas’ front court.
“They still pose the same problems,” Thompson said of Marquette. “They’re a very unselfish team. They can hurt you in a lot of different ways. So if we focus on stopping Gardner, [Vander] Blue can kill you, and Junior Cadougan can kill you. Any given night they have multiple people who can step up and hurt you, so everyone has to be on point.”