The Georgetown men’s basketball team (9-5, 2-0 Big East) started off the New Year on a winning note, as they defeated Marquette (10-4, 0-2 Big East) 80-70 in front of 10,253 fans at the Verizon Center.
Five Hoyas scored in double digits, including a career-high 16 points from freshman forward Marcus Derrickson and 15 points from senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, to continue Georgetown’s undefeated start to Big East play and extend their winning streak to three games.
Despite trailing by as much as 19 with 18:45 to play, Marquette was able to cut the Hoya lead down to as little as six with just 1:27 left in the game. However, the Golden Eagles simply ran out of steam, as Smith-Rivera took over. He scored the final 12 points of the game for the Blue and Gray, including a perfect stretch of 8-8 from the free throw line.
“He’s a senior. He’s someone who understands how to take over at the end of a game,” said Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III of Smith-Rivera.
In the first half, it seemed as though the Blue and Gray had turned a new page in the season, as they generated 49 points, their highest first half total of the year, on 59 percent shooting from the field. In contrast, Marquette was held to just 37 percent shooting in the first. Georgetown entered the locker room with a comfortable 49-36 lead behind stellar play from Derrickson and sophomore forward Isaac Copeland, who scored 11 points in the period.
“It started with our defense,” said Thompson. “Our guys did a great job of fighting over screens so that our bigs weren’t at such a disadvantage with (Marquette) coming downhilll. Offensively, the ball was moving and found its way to the open person.”
But in the second half, the Hoyas had flashbacks to 2015, where they consistently struggled to close out games. In the first ten minutes of the second period, the team scored just eight points. During that stretch, Georgetown recorded 14 consecutive possessions without scoring a basket.
“The ball started to stick and then we stopped moving our bodies,” noted Thompson. “What we have to understand is that when we have a bad offensive possession, a quick shot or a turnover, it leads to easy transition baskets for them.”
A major factor in the game was the play of freshman guard Kaleb Johnson. Johnson was consistently diving on the floor for loose balls, and grabbing offensive rebounds for the Hoyas throughout the game. While his impact won’t be immediately clear on the stat sheet, his teammates and coaches are well aware of his importance. In just 12 minutes of play, Johnson finished with two points, six rebounds, including three on the offensive end, and one assist.
“Kaleb can do everything for us,” said Smith-Rivera. “His offensive rebounding was huge for us tonight. He always makes the hustle plays for us.”
Johnson’s play reminds Thompson of the play of one former Hoya great who was in attendance Saturday: Otto Porter Jr.
“Kaleb reminds me, if you can take the offensive component out of it, of Otto,” said Thompson. “In terms of the effort he puts out and the impact he has on the game, you saw the same things from Otto.”
This was the second consecutive game in which Thompson elected to start sophomore guard Tre Campbell over fellow sophomore guard L.J. Peak. Peak once again thrived in his newfound sixth-man role, scoring ten points, off a perfect 5-of-5 shooting night, while adding four rebounds.
“I like the boost we get off the bench from LJ,” said Thompson. “He provides us with some ‘pop’. Coming off the bench also helps him stay out of foul trouble.”
The Hoyas will look to continue their perfect start to Big East play Tuesday night when they travel to Omaha, Ne. to face Creighton (10-4, 1-0 Big East). Tip-off is set for 9:00 p.m, with the game televised on Fox Sports 1.
For additional news and notes from Saturday’s game, click here.