The Georgetown men’s basketball team will be without starting center Joshua Smith for the remainder of the season because of an ongoing academic issue, Coach John Thompson III announced Friday, leaving the Hoyas with a major void at a critical position as they embark on the most rugged portion of their schedule.
Smith had missed the last five games since playing 23 minutes during a 77-60 victory over St. John’s on Jan. 4 at Verizon Center. Four days later, school officials revealed the junior transfer from UCLA did not accompany the team for its game at Providence because of academic reasons.
Georgetown’s third-leading scorer (11.5 points per game) and leader in field goal percentage (65.5 percent) was practicing but had not been on the bench with his teammates until Monday night’s 80-72 overtime loss to Marquette at Verizon Center. Thompson indicated if Smith gets back on track academically, then he could rejoin the team next season.
The Hoyas (11-7, 3-4 Big East) next play Creighton in Omaha on Saturday night. The Bluejays are in first place in the Big East in their first year as a member of the retooled conference.
“It’s disappointing,” Thompson said. “A lot of what we did was geared toward [Smith’s] presence. This is Georgetown, and we have a set of standards, and everyone has a responsibility above and beyond what goes on outside of those doors” to McDonough Gym.
The Hoyas have lost four of five without Smith, who at 6 feet 10 and 350 pounds commanded attention inside. Thompson has tried a variety of combinations in the front court to try to compensate for Smith’s unavailability, but none of those rotations flourished.
Without Smith in the lineup, opponents have been able to worry less about Georgetown’s interior scoring, instead concentrating their efforts on senior guard Markel Starks and sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.
Starks has played nearly every minute of every game over the last few weeks for Georgetown, which has been without not only Smith but also starting guard Jabril Trawick, who broke his jaw against the Friars. Trawick remains out indefinitely.
Smith-Rivera also continues to log elevated minutes and has been able to do so in part because of an offseason workout regimen that helped the Hoyas’ leading scorer shed roughly 15 pounds. Smith-Rivera also is fifth in the Big East in scoring at 17.5 points per game.
The challenge for Thompson heading into the Creighton game has been tinkering with his substitution patterns to allow for at least some rest for Smith-Rivera and Starks, who have logged extensive minutes given the team’s dearth of scoring at other positions.
Against Marquette, Thompson inserted seldom-used guard Stephen Domingo into the game early in the first half and had guard John Caprio, a former walk-on, record a career-high 22 minutes. Georgetown’s reserves combined to score eight points in the Hoyas’ third straight loss and fourth in five games.
The starting front court, meantime, combined for 12 points on 3-for-17 shooting, although junior Mikael Hopkins, who has moved from forward to center in Smith’s absence, did have 11 rebounds, five blocks and two steals. Senior forward Nate Lubick had two points in 25 minutes, and freshman forward Reggie Cameron went 0 for 5 from three-point range after entering at nearly 36 percent.
“That’s who we are,” Thompson said. “Disappointed? I mean we’ve got to keep working. They’ve got to keep plugging along. They’ve got to find a way to get some points off of offensive rebounds.”
The schedule-makers have not done Georgetown any favors, either, beginning with the Bluejays. Creighton (16-3, 6-1) is coming off a 96-68 victory Monday over No. 4 Villanova in Philadelphia, getting a career-high 27 points from Ethan Wragge and 23 from Doug McDermott, who leads the conference in scoring (24.8) and is considered the favorite to be named the Big East’s player of the year. Wragge made all nine three-pointers he attempted, and the Bluejays set a program record with 21 as a team.
Following Creighton, Georgetown draws Villanova at Verizon Center, where the Hoyas have lost two in a row for the first time since 2010-11 and for the fourth time in 10 seasons under Thompson.
The Hoyas then play No. 3 Michigan State next Saturday at Madison Square Garden. The Spartans have won 11 consecutive games and beaten two teams (Kentucky, Ohio State) who at the time were ranked in the top three.
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