Georgetown men’s basketball Coach John Thompson III was a bit sheepish in discussing his potential lineups shortly before the season began. About the only concrete information he revealed was that D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera would be starting every game. No surprise, of course, given the senior guard has been the Hoyas’ most indispensable player for the past two seasons.
But Thompson also indicated all his younger players — six sophomores and three freshmen are on the roster — were going to be involved. To what degree remained uncertain.
Based the early returns, including Tuesday night’s 75-71 loss to third-ranked Maryland, expect to see plenty of freshman Marcus Derrickson. The 6-foot-7 forward hardly performed like a player in just the second game of his college career, blocking out the raucous sold-out crowd of 17,950 at Xfinity Center to make one fundamentally sound play after another on both ends of the court.
“He did well,” Thompson said. “But we expect Marcus to do well. Much like we expect Kaleb [Johnson] to do well when he gets in there and Jessie [Govan] to do well, and Trey Mourning and Riyan Williams also.”
During critical stretches in the second half, Derrickson stayed on the floor ahead of more experienced teammates. Derrickson is a two-time All-Met who spent three years at Paul VI Catholic competing in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, one of the most rugged in the country for high school basketball. He’s also part of a heralded recruiting class that includes Govan and Johnson.
Among the most telling signs that Derrickson was not about to shrink amid the magnitude of a much-hyped local rivalry renewed came with 1 minute 34 seconds left. Standing at the free throw line facing a student section trying to distract him, Derrickson calmly sank a pair of free throws to draw the Hoyas even at 68. Those were the last of his 13 points to go along with six rebounds and a team-high two blocks.
In the first half, Derrickson made two of his three three-point field goals. His second extended Georgetown’s lead to 26-21, and another three-pointer, upon officials’ replay review, was ruled to have swished through a fraction of a second after the halftime buzzer.
“Like coach said earlier, he did great,” Hoyas sophomore forward Isaac Copeland said. “We expect him when he came here to play to help us win games when you’re in the starting lineup, no matter how old you are.”
Copeland should know after being selected to the Big East all-freshman team last season along with forward Paul White, who was unavailable because of injury. Georgetown was further shorthanded without ailing sophomore guard Tre Campbell. The former first-team All-Met from St. John’s College High played just nine minutes in the first half.
Smith-Rivera, meanwhile, was in foul trouble in the second half, leaving Thompson with few reasonable options other than to use Copeland and L.J. Peak, much more suited to shooting guard than frequent ballhandler, in the back court. The only other guard on the roster is the seldom-used Williams.
“We didn’t have a choice,” Thompson said. “We got in foul trouble. Paul’s not 100 percent healthy yet. Little Tre Campbell’s got something going on. I’m not sure. At halftime he said he couldn’t go in the second half, which made our bench shorter. But do I trust everyone? The guys work hard in practice, and just as important as me trusting them is they trust each other.”
Thompson pointed to the free throw disparity in assessing why the Hoyas dropped to 0-2 for the first time since 1998-99, the last season under Hall of Fame coach John Thompson Jr. Georgetown got to the free throw line 12 times. Maryland shot 32 free throws, including 22 in the second half.
The Hoyas did place all five starters in double figures, with senior center Bradley Hayes contributing 16 points and eight rebounds, both team highs. Playing just 11 minutes in the second half, Smith-Rivera chipped in 14 points, making 4 of 8 from three-point range, with four assists and four rebounds without a turnover.
“There have been some games sometimes when I feel like we’re just standing around the perimeter and chucking up shots,” Thompson said. “That wasn’t the case today. We were throwing it in. We were driving. At the end of the day, the free throw shooting was the difference.”