The Burning Question for this analyst in the pre-season was when and even whether the much heralded pre-season D’vauntes Smith-Rivera (DSR) would appear. DSR was showered with pre-season accolades, including on the lists for the Wooden Award Watch (of 50 players) and the Bob Cousy Point Guard Award and honored with Pre-Season Big East Conference Player of the Year. The Answer to The Question revealed itself fittingly today in the Mecca of Basketball, Madison Square Garden, where Indiana native DSR (hailing from Indianapolis) and his veteran teammates led the 26th ranked (AP and Coaches Polls) Georgetown Hoyas to a hard fought overtime victory over a very talented Indiana Hoosier program, 91-87. As intense and exciting a college game as seen in this early 2014-15 season and in both theatrics and quality of play, this contest overshadowed the subsequent #1 Kentucky vs. #4 Louisville game that ESPN had on its radar for weeks.
DSR achieved everything for his team that can be expected of a Wooden-Cousy pre-season candidate and then some, pouring in 29 points on torrid and timely shooting, including 5 for 7 from the 3-point line, where he has been struggling all season. With 4 assists, 4 steals, 2 rebounds and hitting critical free throws down the stretch, DSR was the floor general and steady leader that the Hoya team needed to take down a hot shooting, determined young–not a senior on the squad–Hoosier team that will most certainly be more dangerous as the season progresses. Significantly, 7 of DSR’s 29 points, including a critical 3-pointer, in the overtime period where leaders emerge and make their mark.
The first half saw the Hoyas with a lead at the 10-9 mark and then lost it to the sharpshooting Hoosiers, led by a stellar performance from junior guard Yogi Ferrell who had 12 points at the half and finished the game with 27 points on 9 for 15 field goals, 5 for 10 from three point land and a perfect 4 for 4 from the line. Indiana had a comfortable 10-point lead at halftime, 40-30, and was also led by the hot hand of talented freshman guard James Blackmon Jr., who hit 3 3-pointers by the half and finished with 22 points. Sophomore forward Troy Williams was the third threat, coming on in the second half as the Hoyas had little to stop him. Williams finished with 23 points on 8 for 12 field goal shooting and went 7 for 8 from the line, had 8 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals. Despite this Hoosier Triumvirate, the Hoya bench outscored the Indiana bench 24-2.
Leading up to this final test before the BIG EAST Conference season, the Hoyas knew well that they would have to stop the Indiana 3-point shot and yet at the 20-minute mark they had failed to achieve that goal. Indiana had 7 3-pointers by the half, to the Hoyas’ 2. In the second half, the Hoyas came out fighting in what seemed to be an entirely different game. DSR emerged from the break with 3 3-point field goals in the first 4 minutes of the half, along with an Aaron Bowen field goal and the Georgetown revved up defense led to Indiana missed shots. This would turn out to be the Hoyas’ half, 47-37. If it weren’t for Ferrell’s 3 pointer with 12 seconds to go, the Hoyas could have pulled this out in regulation. But this is Georgetown vs. Indiana, and in what became an instant classic, the Hoyas, down 1-2 in all meetings between the storied programs before this game, needed an extra 5 minutes to seal the victory to tie the all-time score at 2-2.
How The Hoosiers Were Tamed:
Upperclass Leadership: This analyst has spent much of the season singing the praises of two entities, (a) The Freshman Class (Peak, White and Copeland) and (b) fifth-year senior super athlete Aaron Bowen, who played only 3 minutes in the Kansas game. Well, who showed up today? (b) The Upperclassmen, led by Bowen who including alongside DSR and his senior teammates Josh Smith and Mikael Hopkins, and junior Jabril Trawick, showed the underclassmen what will be expected of them to win big games. And let there be no mistaking, this was a Big Game for the Hoyas. This is the type of game that can be a catalyst, a season changer, and erase from the memories of Hoya fans disappointing losses such as those in the post season against FGCU and Ohio, to mention only two. More importantly, it can instill the kind of confidence in a team that it can pull out tough games on a big stage against high quality opponents such as a few of the teams it will face in its challenging Big EAST schedule, including Villanova, Butler and St. John’s. Aaron Bowen has been around long enough to experience the post-season disappointments and for long stretches last season sat on the bench while some starters spent many minutes on the floor not scoring. Well, of late AB has had a lot to say about that! At the Garden Bowen finished with a career high 22 points on 10 for 13 shooting, was 1 for 2 from the 3-point line, had 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in 35 minutes of play. Josh Smith was also a Presence today (isn’t he always?) and scored 14 points on 6 for 10 shooting, including a couple of critical put backs/tip ins, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a perfect 2 for 2 from the charity stripe. Smith still suffers from ill treatment from the officials, who seem to blow the whistle whenever he comes into contact with anyone because of his large size. At the same time, he was responsible for the first silly foul of the game, contesting a 3- point shot by Robert Johnson in the first minute of the game to lead to Indiana’s first three points.
Senior guard Jabril Trawick was again quietly monstrous for the Hoyas, the other critical piece of the puzzle for the Hoyas as his game has never been as flashy or noticeable as other teammates, but finished with 12 points, was a solid 4 for 7 from the field, hit his only 3, was 3 for 5 from the line with 7 rebounds, with 2 assists and a steal. Starting forward Mikael Hopkins had a solid start, with a couple of nice shots inside and a couple of intimidating blocks. He finished with only 5 points and 4 fouls in 17 minutes and didn’t fulfill the promise of his early minutes but his teammates took over as needed.
Of the Super Freshman Class, starter L.J. Peak contributed the most to this victory yet today looked more like a freshman than a veteran by comparison to his more experienced teammates. However, Peak’s ball handling, energy on the court, 7 points, 5 rebounds and 3 steals in 38 minutes must be recognized as all freshmen White, Copeland–and Peak– struggled from the field today.
Why The Hoyas Were Lucky to Escape with a W:
Missed points in the paint and a 53.8% free throw percentage (14 for 26) are the primary reasons why the Hoyas could have (some say should have) lost this game and are fortunate to put this one in the W column. Team free throw shooting was atrocious and if the Hoyas are to continue to win close ones, this team cannot count on 50% at the line to do the trick. By comparison, Indiana shot 82% at the line (18-22). There was not one principal offender, although freshman White missed 2 and Bowen went 1 for 3 from the line while DSR missed 3 of 9. The Hoyas shot better from the 3-point line (58.3%) than from both the free throw line and from field goal range today (51.5%). Other stats such as turnover ratio were in the Hoyas favor, only 11 to the Hoosiers’ 17. The Hoyas also shared the ball well again with 16 assists. Credit to the Hoyas’ much improved D in the second half against one of the nation’s top scoring teams entering the contest.
While it wasn’t perfect, this was arguably the sweetest victory to Hoyas fans since games leading to the 2007 Final Four run. A holiday gift, perhaps? The official rankings may have stated otherwise, but to Georgetown and Indiana fans cheering on their squads today, this game felt like a late season match between Top 10 opponents, and isn’t that what both contingents have in mind this season? As to the Hoyas, if this DSR and his upperclass cohort show up on a regular basis, that may not be delusional at all.
Next Up for the Hoyas: New Year’s Eve 10pm vs Xavier!! Toast at midnight?