Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas and nearly a dozen NBA scouts showed up for last night’s game between Georgetown and DePaul.
Georgetown’s Jeff Green must have known.
After a season defined by inconsistency, the 6-foot-9 junior posted a team-high 19 points to spur the Hoyas to a 66-52 victory over scrappy DePaul last night at Verizon Center.
The victory keeps the Hoyas (14-5, 4-2 Big East) among the league’s leaders just behind Pittsburgh (18-3, 6-1) as Georgetown prepares for the softest back-to-back games of its conference slate vs. Cincinnati on Saturday and at St. John’s on Feb. 1.
Frankly, if Green plays the rest of the season like he did last night, the level of competition might not matter much.
Entering the meeting against the Blue Demons (12-9, 3-4), questions loomed about which versions of both the erratic Green and schizophrenic DePaul would show up.
The Blue Demons, a team that was blasted by middling to poor teams from Bradley and Northwestern but destroyed strong squads Kansas and California, answered its critics by shooting 68.4 percent in the opening half last night. But even “Good DePaul” was no match for Georgetown and Green —a unanimous preseason All-Big East selection.
“When Jeff gets it going like he did tonight, it’s so much easier on the rest of us,” said freshman forward DaJuan Summers, who had 12 points and six rebounds. “We just feed him the ball and ride him until he goes cold. Tonight he never did, so we just kept going to him.”
It’s not as if Green put on a one-on-five clinic against DePaul. He simply struck the perfect balance of demanding and deferring within coach John Thompson III’s system. He routinely stepped to the fore late in the shot clock when his teammates needed a play and led the Hoyas in shot attempts. He almost never forced his game, committing only one turnover to set the tone for a Georgetown bunch that made a season-low seven miscues despite relentless fullcourt pressure from the Blue Demons.
Given the torrid outside shooting of DePaul junior guard Draelon Burns (20 points), the Hoyas were fortunate to be deadlocked 30-30 at halftime. But luck had little to do with a second half that was hands-down the finest 20 minutes of basketball the Hoyas have played this season, a half predicated on the kind of old-school defense that Papa John made famous on the Hilltop.
“It was our defense that was the key,” said Green, who gave the team its first working margin of the game by powering in a layup over two DePaul defenders to give Georgetown a 49-43 lead with 7:54 remaining. “We couldn’t allow them to come out and shoot 70 percent again in the second half. We’ve got lots of weapons on offense, lots of guys who can score. We have to play the kind of defense we played in the second half to come close to our potential.”
In the second half, the Hoyas came at the Blue Demons’ array of slashing jumpshooters in relentless waves, holding the visitors to just 26.9 percent shooting. Senior guard Sammy Mejia, DePaul’s top scorer, finished the game with just five points on six shots.
And the Hoyas seemed to feed on DePaul’s offensive frustration, the entire roster growing less inhibited on both ends to pull away gradually from the overmatched Blue Demons.
DePaul made just three field goals over the final 9:36. Meanwhile, the Hoyas scored on virtually every possession, receiving yet another huge lift from Summers and a surprise boost from backup freshman point guard Jeremiah Rivers. Forced into extensive duty because of foul trouble on both junior point guard Jon Wallace (11 points, no turnovers) and sophomore running mate Jessie Sapp (five assists, one turnover), Rivers demonstrated poise in the face of the DePaul press. Adeptly handling 15 minutes of chaotic stress from DePaul, Rivers finished the game with four points, four rebounds, one assist and only one turnover.
“Jeremiah was huge for us tonight,” Summers said. “He has a great attitude, is always positive and confident, and that’s contagious.”