Dancing with the Devil: Men’s basketball’s NCAA Tournament hopes crushed in loss to DePaul

February 22, 2017

Photo: Jack Townsend/The Georgetown Voice

This may just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

With its NCAA Tournament hopes on the line, the Georgetown men’s basketball team (14-14, 5-10 Big East) was unable to come away with a much needed win against DePaul (9-19, 2-13 Big East), losing 67-65 on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center. Georgetown sophomore center Jessie Govan led all scorers with 18 points, but DePaul senior guard Billy Garrett, Jr.’s 15 points, including a pair of game-winning free throws with 0.2 seconds remaining, proved too much for the Blue and Gray to handle. Prior to Wednesday night, DePaul had not won a game on the road against Georgetown since 1991, when the Blue Demons defeated the Hoyas 72-63.

Georgetown has now secured consecutive seasons with a losing record in the Big East for the first time since the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. The loss also places the Blue and Gray in serious danger of finishing the season with a losing record for the second consecutive year, which has not happened since the 1971-72 and 1972-73 seasons. The latter was the team’s first year under then-Head Coach John Thompson, Jr. Moreover, Georgetown now sits alone at ninth place in the conference standings, meaning the team will likely have to play a first-round game in the Big East Tournament.

The first eleven minutes of tonight’s game seemed to indicate that Georgetown would walk away with a comfortable victory, as the team jumped out to 27-13 lead with 9:06 remaining in the half. Graduate student guard Rodney Pryor led the Hoyas with 12 points during that span. DePaul answered Georgetown’s early lead with a momentous 26-9 run to end the half, capitalizing on Garrett, Jr.’s 13 points in the period. DePaul utilized a mix of zone defense and full-court defensive pressure to stifle the Hoyas’ offensive rhythm in the final ten minutes of the half. The Blue Demons also hit five three-pointers during the run, including one from senior guard R.J. Curington with 1:06 remaining in the half to give DePaul a 39-36 advantage heading into the break.

Photo: Jack Townsend/The Georgetown Voice

“Our energy picked up defensively,” Garrett, Jr. said of DePaul’s first half run. “We weren’t talking on defense at all and we figured we could get what we wanted on offense if we just move the ball and play with more pep in our step. We did that… We kind of sensed that they didn’t want to play that hard.”

“(The zone) threw us off. We got the ball inside, but we had some turnovers, we missed some shots. We took too long to settle down… We let out frustrations on offense lead to bad defense,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said.

After the intermission, Georgetown steadily chipped away at the DePaul lead thanks in large part to four early points from Govan. The Hoyas regained the lead with 13:48 remaining on the clock following two free throws from junior guard L.J. Peak. The teams exchanged baskets for the next eight minutes, with neither team able to gain a sizeable lead. A layup from Curington tied the game at 56 apiece with 6:22 left on the clock.

Georgetown junior guard Akoy Agau extended the Georgetown lead to five points, the team’s largest of the second half, with five minutes to play after an and-one layup in the post. But DePaul junior forward Tre’Darius McCallum quickly tied the game, scoring five combined points on back-to-back possessions. Govan extended the Georgetown lead to four points on a jumper as the shot clock expired with just over a minute remaining, but McCallum answered with a layup just 20 seconds later.

With a two point lead and :32 remaining, the ball was stolen from Govan, and DePaul quickly converted this into a McCallum layup just second later. Out of a timeout called by Thompson with the game tied at 65, Peak came off a Govan screen at the top of the key and kicked out to Govan, who was left wide-open with six seconds remaining. Govan’s three-point attempt airballed, and turned the ball over to DePaul with 4.9 seconds remaining.

“It was a read on L.J.’s part,” said Thompson. “We put L.J. in a ball screen, we had Rodney receiving a pindown screen… Jessie’s man stayed with L.J. and so he made the decision to throw it back to Jessie.”

Following a timeout, Garrett, Jr. inbounded the ball, and quickly received a return pass. He then ran down the court and drove to the lane. He rose for the layup and missed, but was fouled by Agau, who was attempting to block the shot with 0.2 seconds left on the clock. Garrett, Jr. made the two free throws, cementing the victory for DePaul.

“Coach just drew up a great play,” Garrett, Jr. said. “I had a full head of steam and they were trying to switch so I was able to get by my defender… I figured, ‘might as well try to get to the basket.’ So I got to the basket, got an open lane, and the guy fouled me.”

“We knew they were going to throw it right back to him,” said Thompson. “We wanted to retreat and keep him in front of us and we just didn’t do it.”

When asked about the team’s mood, Pryor said the team “just (needs) to stick together. From here on out, we have to finish strong.”

The Blue and Gray will next play on Saturday, when they travel to Madison Square Garden to take on St. John’s (12-16, 6-9 Big East). The game will tip-off at 12:00 pm and will be broadcast locally on MASN.

Following the game, Thompson said his message to the team was to prepare for the Red Storm.

“Let’s regroup and be ready for Saturday. That’s the message.”

Tyler Pearre
Maryland native and D.C. sports fan. Forever romanticizing the days of Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas circa 2007.

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