This game between two marginal bubble teams was played with postseason-type intensity. This extended to the referees, who worked this game like their jobs depended on them, not missing a single call. The officials combined to call 51 fouls, including two highly questionable technical fouls on Marquette’s Jake Thomas and Georgetown’s Jabril Trawick. These rulings forced both teams into foul trouble and produced a long game that was nearly unwatchable for most of it.
On the surface, the officiating did not hurt Georgetown. The game was called evenly, with Georgetown whistled 26 times compared to 25 for Marquette. As Georgetown shot their free throws notably better than Marquette (27-of-30 compared to 23-of-34 for Marquette) the Hoyas actually gained points at the free throw line.
Indirectly, however, the fouling just destroyed Georgetown. Marquette’s inside-scoring beast Davante Gardner already promised to be a load for the Georgetown interior defense to handle, and one would have expected him to get the always foul-prone Hoya front line in foul trouble.
What was disheartening for Georgetown fans is that the big guys got themselves in foul trouble with silly off-the-ball mistakes before Gardner could even get in the game. Mikael Hopkins picked up his second foul less than two minutes into the game, and Nate Lubick picked up two before four minutes were out. Lubick and Moses Ayegba both fouled out early in the second half. Those three combined for 14 fouls in 42 minutes.
As it has done for most of the year, the foul trouble up front eviscerated Georgetown’s ability to play defense in the paint. For the last ten minutes, Georgetown was forced to turn to little used sophomore bust Bradley Hayes out of desperation. Hayes was beaten by Gardner several times and committed four fouls himself in 11 minutes. However, he was the best of Georgetown’s sorry big man lot on this night, getting a couple of big stops, corralling a key offensive rebound, and hitting his two free throws.
Still, Gardner simply feasted on a Georgetown team that had no hope of stopping him, scoring 26 points on 80.0 percent shooting from the field (8-10 FG) and 10-of-12 free throws in just 23 minutes. He was complemented by Thomas, who got free for six made three-pointers on nine attempts on his way to a career-high 22 points.
Georgetown got off to a strong start offensively, and led at the break 40-37. They were carried by the troika of Markel Starks (24 points, 6-13 FG, 10-10 FT), D`Vauntes Smith-Rivera who had an off game for him with 19 points, 6-16 FG, 5-6 FT, and 3 turnovers, and Trawick who finished with 16 points on 42.8 percent shooting from the field on seven attempts, and was a perfect 8-8 from the free throw line.
However, Trawick was quiet after halftime and rest of the team could not pick up the slack. Aaron Bowen in particular was brutal, finishing 0-for-6 from the field. Georgetown didn’t score for the first five minutes of the second half, a stretch that ended up costing them the game. The offense down the stretch seemed to consist primarily of drives by Starks and Smith-Rivera with the hope of drawing the foul.
John Thompson III has proven himself to be one of the nation’s better coaches, but his great weakness has always been in-game coaching, particularly in making adjustments. This really showed last night. He never tried running double teams at Gardner, who continued to abuse his defenders one-on-one.
Thompson also made a questionable decision not to call a timeout during Marquette’s big run to start the second half. He used his last timeout with the Hoyas down one with the ball, but failed to substitute a better offensive player for Hayes while Marquette used the opportunity to substitute the defensive-minded Chris Otule for Gardner. The Hoyas looked disorganized coming out of the timeout and didn’t seem to have a play designed to get a good shot. Poor play out of timeouts has been a frequent problem for Thompson’s teams, so it came as no surprise to Hoya fans to see that again here.
The Hoyas played hard and at times very well under bad circumstances, and despite everything could have won this game. Starks and Smith-Rivera had decent chances to win or tie the game at the end, but the ball just didn’t go down. It was not a game that showed any lack of character on Georgetown’s part, just the limits of the team’s current talent.
Georgetown theoretically remains on the bubble, because after all they could beat Creighton and Villanova to finish the season. That's simply not likely however. Marquette also must do more in its remaining three games to get into the tournament.
Georgetown fans will solace themselves with the likelihood that they will bring a better team into Milwaukee next season as well as the certainty of Davante Gardner’s graduation. Gardner has been an especially vexing opponent for Georgetown. Not only has he dominated the Hoyas on the court, he reminds every Hoya fan what Josh Smith could and should be.
As they say, there is always next year.