WASHINGTON, D.C. — After Georgetown sophomore D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera made four 3-pointers, converted five buckets in the paint and sank all 10 of his free throws, a reporter asked Bob Huggins about the challenge of defending him.
“I don’t think he felt like it was much of a challenge,” Huggins chirped.
Smith-Rivera scored a season-high 32 points, 23 of those in a dazzling second half that carried the Hoyas to a 77-65 throwback win over its old Big East rival West Virginia.
“He was in rhythm today,” said Georgetown point guard Markel Starks of Smith-Rivera. “You go through practices and you scrimmage against one another and he is hitting shots and you are like ‘gosh.’ And then you finally see it tonight.
“That’s big. Unbelievable game. Unbelievable.”
After Georgetown used an 8-0 run to seize the lead in early in the second half, Smith-Rivera scored nine points during a 15-2 flurry that widened the Hoyas’ lead to 67-51 with 3:47 left.
“(Smith-Rivera) really got going, scored it a number of ways,” said West Virginia point guard Juwan Staten. “He basically made us pay for every mistake we made on the defensive end.”
And there were many.
Georgetown (18-14) shot 52 percent and piled up 47 points in the second half, sending the sold-out McDonough Arena crowd of 2,133 into hysteria. Students who helped pack the tiny on-campus gym chanted “Go home, West Virginia!” when the lead swelled to double-digits. Later came a mock rendition of “Country Roads” that doubled as WVU’s swan song.
“The fans got us a little rattled, but it’s a do-or-die game so you can’t have that kind of excuse,” said Terry Henderson, who summed up WVU’s trouble as “being lazy on defense.”
The Mountaineers ranked at the bottom of the Big 12 in defense for a reason—a point Huggins bemoaned all season.
“We haven’t guarded all year. If we can’t outscore you, we’re not going to win, which is a terrible, terrible way to be,” he said. “I hate saying that, and I hate it being that way, but we just don’t guard well enough that we can not make shots, because we let other people make them.”
COLD WHEN IT COUNTED
Though the Mountaineers shot 44.9 percent overall to Georgetown’s 44.2 percent, the second-half totals weighed heavily in the Hoyas’ favor and the visitors couldn’t make momentum-changing shots.
West Virginia finished 6-of-21 from 3-point range, including 0-of-7 by Remi Dibo, who had at least three misses rattle in and out. After one wide-open shot from the top of circle pinballed out of the basket, Dibo shook his head in disbelief as he glanced over at Huggins.
“Remi had great looks, but didn’t make any,” Huggins said. “I’m sitting here looking at this (stat feet): If Remi Dibo goes 0-for-7 from 3 and Eron Harris goes 2-for-7, we’re not going to win. We’re just not going to win.”
Freshman forward Brandon Watkins played three minutes in the opening half before going to the bench with two fouls. One came when he arrived late on a moving screen, and the other was a backcourt bump that tripe Aaron Bowen.
In the second half, Watkins made an even briefer cameo. He entered at the 17:50 mark and gave only a timid swipe at a loose ball after Harris was stripped on a drive. Georgetown grabbed the 50-50 bal and turned it into a Smith-Rivera 3-pointer for a 39-36 lead.
Huggins called a 30-second timeout at 16:40 and subbed out Watkins, never to return.
After the game, Huggins said: “We had some guys who certainly could have played a whole lot harder.”
Georgetown’s first men’s game at McDonough Arena in more than four years featured a hypercharged atmosphere that had sentimentalists yearning for more.
“It was unbelievable, the energy that we got from the fans,” said coach John Thompson III. “The students, the young alums, the old alums. It was a great environment. … I wish we could have that environment at the Verizon Center.”
That energy doesn’t typically translate because the Hoyas average just 9,106 fans at the 20,000-seat Verizon Center (which was prepping for a circus Tuesday night). Yet it’s not feasible for Georgetown to play games on campus in a gym that’s one-10th Verizon’s size.
“We have some financial responsibilities,” Thompson said. “And much as it’s a great environment (at McDonough), I think playing here we lose a lot of money that we could gain even on a bad-attended day at the Verizon Center.”