There was little that came easy for the Georgetown men’s basketball team during its 68-63 victory over DePaul on Saturday night, but the Hoyas survived, and that’s really all that matters as far as postseason aspirations are concerned.
Georgetown (18-8, 10-5 Big East) won its third in a row and eighth in 11 games to dodge what would have been an unsightly blemish to its NCAA tournament résumé. The Hoyas also secured a first-round bye in the Big East tournament by beating DePaul for the 13th time in a row in the regular season and are alone in second place in the conference behind Villanova.
The final minute yielded plenty of drama, with the Hoyas desperately trying to protect a slim lead. They couldn’t exhale fully until junior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera made 1 of 2 foul shots with 0.7 seconds left for the final margin after DePaul’s Billy Garrett Jr. missed a layup, forcing the Blue Demons (12-16, 6-9) to foul.
Smith-Rivera led the Hoyas with a game-high 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists without a turnover while playing all 40 minutes. Senior center Joshua Smith added 15 points and 11 rebounds for his sixth double-double this season.
“Josh wanted the ball tonight,” Hoyas Coach John Thompson III said. “Some nights I’m not really sure he wants it in there. It was clear he wanted the ball. Every time I would call something else, [his teammates] would say, ‘No, let’s get it to Josh,’ so they wanted to get him the ball. It was definitely a concerted effort.”
Georgetown came out of the locker room at halftime determined to get Smith more involved, and the 6-foot-11, 340-pounder gladly accepted the responsibility, first by collecting freshman forward Isaac Copeland’s pass and scoring on a layup. Then Smith grabbed an offensive rebound and converted the putback for a 34-27 lead.
“I was kind of in a slump the last few games,” said Smith, who helped the Hoyas to a 42-22 advantage in points in the paint. “Just with how I was playing and just with my effort. It was one of those nights where my teammates were riding me out, and I just tried to go out there and perform for them.”
A dunk from Smith stretched the advantage to three possessions, and Smith-Rivera’s driving layup made it 40-30 with 16 minutes 40 seconds left in regulation. Just over a minute later, the Hoyas expanded the lead to 11 following a three-point play by Smith, but DePaul regrouped to close within 43-39 with a jumper, a three-pointer and a layup.
The Hoyas took a seven-point lead with a 6-2 burst capped by reserve forward Aaron Bowen’s leap well above the rim to gather Smith-Rivera’s lob pass and dunk with two hands while drawing contact. Bowen missed the bonus free throw, and the Blue Demons scored their next five points from the foul line to trim the deficit to 50-46 with 7:58 to play.
“Georgetown [is] clearly one of the best teams in our league, one of the best teams in the country. Playing well right now,” Blue Demons Coach Oliver Purnell said. “Smith-Rivera is terrific. What a fine money player he is. We put ourselves in position, but we didn’t finish it out on the glass.”
DePaul wasn’t done yet thanks to Forrest Robinson. The senior forward sank three three-pointers in a row, the last of which drew the Blue Demons to 56-55 with 5:42 to go, but Georgetown extended the margin back to two possessions with senior guard Jabril Trawick’s layup and Smith’s two foul shots.
Garrett then missed two foul shots, and Copeland turned a blistering pass from Smith into a jumper for a 62-56 lead with 2:53 left.
A one-possession game with 26 seconds remaining, the Hoyas converted 4 of 6 free throws to send DePaul to its fourth straight loss.
“We knew that his game would be tougher than most because at this point DePaul has lost a few games in a row,” Smith-Rivera said. “They were coming out strong and looking for a win. We have so much to play for, and they’re trying [to] recover and get back to where they belong. We knew it was going to be a tough game. We just wanted to come out with a win.”