All signs pointed to a Georgetown letdown entering Wednesday's home game against DePaul. John Thompson III certainly sensed something amiss entering the game that came before Saturday's highly anticipated battle at eighth-ranked Syracuse. In the latter stages of the first half, his No. 11 Hoyas were trading baskets with one of the Big East's bottom teams and losing the rebounding battle decisively.
Then the Hoyas stingy defense resurfaced. Then freshman guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera's scoring spree ran wild. Then the script ran as expected, not as feared.
Smith-Rivera scored 33 points and the Hoyas tallied their most prolific offensive game of the season with a 90-66 rout over DePaul for their eighth straight win.
Nate Lubick had 15 points and Jabril Trawick added 13 as the Hoyas (20-4, 10-3) shot 63.5 percent from the field and moved back into a three-way tie atop the conference standings with Syracuse and Marquette.
Georgetown's leading scorer and rebounder Otto Porter scored 11 points in 20 minutes. The All-American candidate banged his right knee with an opponent and played only three minutes after halftime, though Thompson later described Porter's condition as "okay."
The stocky Smith-Rivera made 10 of 12 shots including 5 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc as the Hoyas won for the 10th time in 11 games. His points were the most by a Georgetown freshman under Thompson and the most in the program since Victor Page scored 34 as a freshman on March 8, 1996, against Villanova in the Big East Tournament.
"He's coming along," the understated Thompson said of Smith-Rivera. "What he did tonight he can do. He puts the ball in the basket. I think as the year has progressed, he's getting a little more comfortable, he knows where the shots are coming from. He has the ability to score like he did."
That was not always the case with the Hoyas this season, but their 90 points represented a season-high as did their 43 first half points.
DePaul (11-15, 2-11) shot 38.5 percent from the field. Georgetown has held 10 of its last 11 opponents under 40 percent.
Outside of the knee-knocking Porter, all of that sounds like an ideal scenario, just not one the worried coach saw coming.
"Yesterday we probably had our worst practice of the year, by far," Thompson said following the program's 12th straight win over DePaul. Outside attention on Saturday's looming matchup at the Carrier Dome, likely Georgetown's last as a member of the Big East, added an unwanted element in the coach's estimation.
"I was a little nervous coming into today. As has been the case all year, once we settled down at the defensive end and made it more difficult for them to score, we fell into our rhythm on the offensive end as well."
While Georgetown maintained a lead in the latter stages of the first half, DePaul showed no signs of wilting. The Blue Demons repeatedly snatched offensive rebounds, traded baskets four times with the Hoyas and trailed 28-25. Thompson called a timeout in that stretch to reinforce the game plan and his players clearly listened. Layups from Markel Starks layup and Trawick started a 15-4 run, sending the Hoyas into halftime ahead 43-29.
Smith-Rivera made his first five field goals before halftime and eight overall including two 3-pointers during Georgetown's 16-7 spurt opening the second half for a 59-38 lead. The margin never dipped below 17 points from there.
Describing the strategy against DePaul, Thompson said, "Going into the game you [have] to take away from their second shots and transition baskets. Early on I don't think we did a good job with that. Once we kind of locked down with that, everything changed."
Smith-Rivera tallied 19 points against Duquesne in the season opener before lapsing into the traditional freshmen erratic stretches. Over the last 11 games, all without the academically ineligible Greg Whittington, the confident scorer began finding his consistent stroke.
“I just made shots in the gym," Smith-Rivera said. "I go in every day, get repetitions, and I’m putting up shots. That’s pretty much what it was.”
Clearly practice paid off.
"If you look at his stat line, he hadn’t shot it that well from three," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said after the Blue Demons lost their 40th straight game to a ranked foe. "But if you look at his form, you understand if he gets a wide open look, it’s going to go in."
Midway through the first half Porter fell to the floor, clutching his knee, but remained in the game. He came out from halftime wearing a sleeve, but left the game with 17:18 remaining and returned to the locker room before eventually resurfacing on the Hoyas bench.
"I think he's going to be okay," Thompson said. "He banged knees and he was sore. I think it scared him more than anything else. I don't think it was anything big. We were able to get by without really putting him back in."
Now Georgetown can focus on Syracuse. Thompson can worry about the matchup as coaches do, but he can be confident of this: nobody will accuse the Hoyas of looking past the Orange.