WASHINGTON, D.C. — Georgetown has spent much of the season’s first two months with the look and the feel of a team that deserved a spot somewhere in the Top 25 this season.
The only problem?
The wins to back it up. The Hoyas lost close games to Wisconsin and Butler in the Bahamas. They were beaten by Kansas in D.C. in December. They lost to both Xavier and Providence on the road in Big East play, and while wins over Indiana and Florida look nice to the casual observer, the fact of the matter is that neither of those two programs are as good this season as their reputation would indicate.
That all changed on Monday night, as No. 4 Villanova waltzed into the Verizon Center sitting in first place in the Big East … and promptly took a beating at the hands of the Hoyas, losing 78-58. Isaac Copeland led the way with 17 points off the bench. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera added 17 as well, although he did most of his damage from the free throw line during an off-night.
Eight of Copeland’s 17 points came during Georgetown’s 17-0 run in the first half to open up a 30-11 lead on the Wildcats, and Villanova was never able to get back into it. Georgetown pushed that lead to 26 points early in the second half, and while Villanova made a run down the stretch, they were never able to get closer than 12.
It was the second straight game where Copeland was the difference-maker for the Hoyas. In Georgetown’s win over Butler on Saturday, Copeland hit a three from the corner with 4.7 seconds left for a 61-59 win. His 17 points on Monday was was a career-high, and in his last three games — all Georgetown wins — Copeland is averaging 11.7 points.
“Isaac’s doing his job,” head coach John Thompson III said after the game. “He’s a good basketball player and he’s playing well.”
He wasn’t always playing well, though, as his numbers the last three games become all the more impressive when you consider how little JT III trusted him early in the season. Copeland played a total of just seven minutes against Wisconsin and Florida back in November, and this recent three-game stretch came on the heels of a five-game stretch where Copeland scored a total of just four points.
For Copeland, it’s seems to be all about confidence.
“The Princeton offense is different than a lot of other schools’ so just more repetition and getting the experience is what’s been helping me out so far,” he said after Saturday’s win. “Just remembering what to do, when to do it and how to do it.”
“It’s not like everyone in the locker room is going to say, ‘Ooh, Isaac is pretty good,'” Thompson added after the Butler game. “They know that. That’s something that has happened through weeks and months of workouts and watching and playing with him. The trust has been there.”
Copeland isn’t the only freshman that has had an impact for the Hoyas this season. L.J. Peak has come back to earth a bit after his scorching start to the season, but he’s still provided the Hoyas with some real scoring pop along side Smith-Rivera in the back court. He’s Georgetown’s most dangerous weapon in transition, which, according to Villanova head coach Jay Wright, is a huge part of what makes the Hoyas so good.
And then there’s Paul White, a 6-foot-8 Chicago native that has consistently been a valuable weapon for Thompson off the bench. White finished with nine points and hit a big three on Monday that ended a 16-5 Villanova run which cut Georgetown’s lead to 14 points early in the second half.
It’s exactly the kind of play that Georgetown fans should have expected from a recruiting class that ranked as one of the top ten in the country, according to Rivals.
And it’s also going to be the difference between this Georgetown team being good enough to make the NCAA tournament and good enough to make a run to the second weekend, if not farther.
Smith-Rivera is this team’s star and go-to guy. Josh Smith is their anchor on the low-block and a good enough passer to allow the Hoyas to run offense through him. Mikael Hopkins has turned into a valuable defender and energy guy, while Jabril Trawick’s development from an athlete to an effective all-around basketball player has been impressive.
Those are the guys that get — and deserve — the headlines for the Hoyas.
But it’s the freshmen that not only give Thompson the depth to be able to play an eight-man rotation, but they allow him the kinda of lineup versatility that keeps Georgetown from running into too may mismatches. Copeland, when he’s playing well, can be used at either forward spot thanks to his length, athleticism and skill on the perimeter, while White can guard the two or the three. If Thompson needs to go big, he can use Copeland or White on the perimeter with Hopkins and Smith up front. If he needs to go small — like he did against Villanova — he can play White and Copeland at the forward spot alongside Hopkins, a lineup that proved very effective for Georgetown on Monday.
“They had really good individual, one-on-one defenders,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said.
Georgetown’s scorching-hot first half shooting is what will get the credit for the lead they opened up in the first half, but the truth is that smothering, half-court defense is what set the tone early.
“Our defensive effort was outstanding,” Thompson said. “I thought our guys did a very good job of being aggressive without fouling [or] overextending.”
“[Villanova] had an off-night; we had a lot to do with their off-night.”
This was the first time all season that the Wildcats were thoroughly beat down like this. They’ve had a couple of slow starts of late — and those are killer on the road in league play — but that shouldn’t change just how impressive the Hoyas were in the first 25 minutes on Monday.
And it also should drive home just how big this win was. For starters, it moved them into sole possession of first place in the Big East, which likely won’t last in this league. But that resume win over the Wildcats is not going away, and neither is the impression that a nationally televised beatdown of a top five team will provide.
It wouldn’t have happened without Georgetown’s freshman.
“This was expected out of them as soon as they got on campus,” Trawick said. “I told everyone that they were capable of being big for us, and that’s what they’re doing right now.”