Claiming a road victory in the Big East road game is rarely straightforward yet Georgetown complicated a winnable matchup at South Florida on Saturday with rare defensive lapses and late game faltering.
Now the Hoyas (12-4, 2-3) have less than 48 hours with which to right those on-court wrongs before facing their next away test, at No. 24 Notre Dame (7:30 p.m.) on Monday night. Complicating matters, only the rarest of visitors leave South Bend smiling.
Defense remains Georgetown's strength - allowing 56.3 points per game, 11th nationally-, yet there was nothing merry about the way South Florida shooters drained 7 of 10 3-pointers starting the second half, turning a 31-23 deficit into a lead it would never relinquish. This scorching display came after the Bulls went 1 of 14 from beyond the arc in the first half and before the home team missed their last three.
Asked what changed with South Florida's long distance accuracy, Georgetown coach John Thompson III told reporters, "They started making ‘em. I think quite honestly our sense of urgency to get out on shooters wasn’t what it needed to be. They hit, what, seven threes in the second half? They’ve got guys that can make shots. We’re not getting out on their shooters.”
For the third straight game Georgetown played without second-leading scorer and rebounder Greg Whittington, who Thompson recently called, "probably our best defender, who can guard multiple positions." For the first time in those three games, the lengthy forward's absence proved costly. Whittington is out indefinately after being ruled academically ineligible.
Should Georgetown give Notre Dame (15-3, 3-2) continuous open looks, the game likely won't come down to the final minute. The Irish lead the Big East in 3-point shooting (40.6) and field goal percentage (50.6).
Guards Scott Martin (47.7 on 3's) and Eric Atkins (Columbia, Md.) rank fourth and fifth respectively among the conference's 3-point shooters, one spot ahead of Georgetown's Otto Porter. Atkins is shooting 54.9% (28-51) from the field in Big East play, including a league-best 66.7% from beyond the arc.
Should the game indeed come down to a handful of final possessions, the Hoyas cannot repeatedly come up empty with them as they did in Tampa.
Down 59-58 after recovering from a seven-point deficit with 9:23 remaining, Georgetown took possession with 1:46 remaining. From there the Hoyas would call three timeouts over the final 87 seconds, yet managed only one shot attempt - and no points - in that span.
First, Nate Lubick's pass to a cutting Porter bounced out of bounds off a South Florida defender. Next, a rushed Porter missed a jumper with the shotclock expiring.
Following a defensive stop, Georgetown called timeout and designed a plan with 26 seconds left. The desired intentions were never realized. After minimal player movement and plenty of forceful directions coming from seemingly the entire bench, another timeout was called with 12 seconds remaining.
Finally the Hoyas put the ball in the hands of Porter, who had 16 of his 21 points in the second half. Starting far from the basket and with multiple defenders in his vicinity, Porter's drive ended with the ball escaping his grasp and South Florida taking possession.
"I thought he was fouled, but it wasn’t called. Those are the breaks," Thompson said."
According to the game's play-by-play transcript, seven times the the Hoyas held possession against South Florida coming out of a timeout. The results, four missed shots, three turnovers and zero points. Georgetown also came up empty in three possessions after a timeout inside the final two minutes in its 49-48 loss at Marquette.
After following up a 12-game winning streak by losing two straight including one at home, Notre Dame fended off Rutgers 69-66 on Saturday. Post presence and leading scorer Jack Cooley tallied 19 points and 10 rebounds against the Scarlett Knights. Cooley leads the Big East with 10.7 rebounds.
Though they lost to Connecticut in South Bend this month, the Irish have won 47 of 49 games at home including the last two against the Hoyas. Georgetown won the only meeting last season, 59-41 at the Verizon Center as Cooley scored only two points and the Irish finished without a double figure scorer.
Outside of Porter and freshman guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (12 points), the Hoyas' scoring options dried up against South Florida. Markel Starks, Georgetown's only active double-digit scorer besides Porter, missed seven of eight shots and finished with three points. Starting forward Mikael Hopkins played a scoreless 17 minutes.
The 6-foot-9 Hopkins also did not a grab a rebound and has only three in the three games without Whittington. In those games, the 6-foot-3 Smith-Rivera, who is emerging as a bit of a stat-stuffer, totaled 20 boards.
"As a group, the attention to detail was not good," Thompson said. "I think that as a group, the effort needed to win in this league was not there.”