Just over two weeks ago, the outlook for the remainder of the 2013-14 Georgetown men’s basketball season appeared bleak at best. Following a heartbreaking 65-60 loss, their fifth straight, at the hands of No. 4 Villanova, “NIT-bound” rather than “NCAA-destined” creeped more and more into the daily vocabulary of disillusioned Hoya fans.
Without junior center Joshua Smith, absent because of an academic suspension for the remainder of the year, the Hoyas lacked a dominant low-post presence and a third-scoring option to alleviate the scoring burden of senior guard Markel Starks and sophomore guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Fast forward to this week: the situation has dramatically changed for the Blue and Gray (16-9, 6-6 Big East), as they have played themselves back into the NCAA Tournament picture with their recent four-game winning streak, including wins this past week at Verizon Center against Butler, 71-63, (12-12, 2-10 Big East) and Providence, 83-71 (16-9, 6-6 Big East).
Starks and Smith-Rivera have maintained their strong play for the Hoyas, as they have continued carrying the brunt of the scoring load.
Against Butler, Starks had a team-high 19 points while Smith-Rivera followed closely behind with 18 of his own. The two traded places in the matchup against Providence, as Smith-Rivera led the team with 22 points and Starks finished with 14. In the last two games, both players shot an efficient 25-of-49 from the field, and have proven clutch towards the end of the game at the free throw line, converting on 19-of-20 attempts from the charity stripe.
Despite these impressive scoring figures, the backcourt has been effective in other key areas, particularly on the defensive end. Tasked with guarding Butler’s leading scorer, sophomore guard Kellen Dunham, Starks met the challenge. Dunham struggled to find his form throughout the contest, only mustering 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting. Smith-Rivera also has helped on the defensive boards with his rebounding, as he pulled down five rebounds in each game during the homestand, an exorbitant amount for a guard.
“I think that Markel is playing at a very high level right now at both ends of the court,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson said of his guard following the win against Butler. “Most nights he’s going to have to guard someone … who can score, and so just to have that responsibility to work at one end, to work at the other end, get everyone else involved, and just with our team right now he’s going to be out there for most of the time.”
Thompson shared similar praise for Smith-Rivera’s play after the victory against Providence.
“He shouldn’t be defined just by scoring points,” Thompson said. “We need him to rebound. We need him to throw passes to other guys and then he’ll find a way to get his baskets. He did a good job with that today, he had five assists, five rebounds and he put the ball in the basket and he made his foul shots down the stretch.”
But while the backcourt has been playing that way consistently for the entirety of this season, the same could not be said for the Georgetown frontcourt of senior forward Nate Lubick and junior forward Mikael Hopkins. During the winning streak, however, the two have cataylzed the Hoyas’ success both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Against Butler, Lubick had a near double-double with 10 points and nine rebounds. In the contest with Providence, Hopkins grabbed 11 rebounds, his second double-figure rebounding game of the season, while also adding seven points.
Along with these developments, junior guard Jabril Trawick’s return from injury has been greatly welcomed by Georgetown fans. In his role off the bench, Trawick energizes his teammates whenever he enters the game with his superb defensive effort and his aggression on offense. In the the last two wins, Trawick has averaged 10 points and 4.5 rebounds in just under 26 minutes per game.
“Guys are stepping up. I think there’s an understanding that everyone is going to get a shot and you’re going to have to step up and play,” Thompson said after the Providence game.
The Hoyas will look to continue their four-game winning streak when they return to action this Sunday night, as they travel to face resurgent St. John’s (16-8, 6-5 Big East) at New York’s famed Madison Square Garden, the site of their win against Michigan State on February 1. The Hoyas defeated St. John’s earlier this season in blowout fashion at Verizon Center, 77-60 on Jan. 4. The Red Storm enter the contest on a hot streak, as well, having won six of their last seven games.