Two days after its season opener was wiped away because of condensation that couldn’t be, Georgetown took the floor Sunday at the much drier Verizon Center for take two of Game 1.
But the Hoyas still looked waterlogged for most of their 61-55 win against Duquesne, struggling to run their offense and playing much too fast and loose with the ball for coach John Thompson III’s taste.
On top of that, do-everything forward Otto Porter, whom the Hoyas are relying on a great deal, took an errant shot to the head in the game’s first six minutes and did not return, further hampering Georgetown’s plans.
But in this season where leadership is a major question mark from a roster with no seniors, the Hoyas proved once again they aren’t going to follow the traditional path to find answers.
The heroes of Georgetown’s sluggish victory over Duquesne would prove to be freshman guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, officially making his college debut since the records from Friday’s game against Florida have been scrubbed from the books, and sophomore forward Greg Whittington, whose rebounding prowess would prove to be critical as the Hoyas staved off a furious Dukes rally.
Smith-Rivera was perfect from the floor for nearly the entire game, finishing with 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting, his only miss on the closest shot he took, a layup in the game’s waning minutes. Otherwise, the guard was deadly, going 4 for 4 from behind the arc in the first half to spark the Hoyas’ stagnant offense.
“We were just getting the ball to the open guy and he was open,” Thompson said. “D'Vauntes can score — he can shoot and he can score. He was the recipient. Our guys found him and he put the ball in the basket. But we needed that. There’s no doubt about it. We were kind of struggling a little bit there and he made shots.”
Whittington (eight points) wasn’t much of an offensive threat, but with the game still in doubt — the Hoyas leading by three with 27 seconds remaining — his 15th rebound of the night, off Jabril Trawick’s missed free throw, and subsequent two free throws would prove to be huge, giving Georgetown a 58-53 edge.
“There was nothing more crucial than that free-throw rebound when we’re down three,” Duquesne coach Jim Ferry said. “That was a crushing blow.”
For Whittington, winning the biggest battle of a hard-fought contest was never in question.
“Coach said it was going to be a physical game. I just went up to go get that rebound,” he said. “There’s nothing to it. I just went and got it.”
Looming over everything was the health of Porter, who was struck around the eye area and gingerly walked to the bench after the officials stopped play, grimacing in pain. Trainers appeared to be looking at his nose or cheekbone, but the sophomore standout did not return in the first half and was not seen after halftime.
“He’s being monitored and just as a precaution, we said, ‘Let’s not put him back in.’ It was close,” Thompson said. “He’s just being monitored and we’ll see what happens as the week goes on, so I’m not sure right now.”
The Hoyas acknowledged they lost focus with Porter, the team’s leading returning scorer, out of the lineup, forcing them to go even younger.
“I think that might have been part of why we looked a little sloppy,” junior forward Nate Lubick said. “You start thinking about Otto not being in the game too much and people start looking for their own offense a little too much. Even without Otto, we have to be willing to stick to our stuff.”
Relying on freshman guards burying 3-pointers is not what Thompson wants to do with his offense. He will take this second opener of sorts, and Wednesday’s game against Liberty, to fine tune the strategy — one that hopefully features Porter back on the floor.
“I thought that our execution of our game plan, at both ends of the court, was not good,” Thompson said. “And so they have to learn. We have to learn. … It’s a long year. We have a lot of room for improvement and I think we will improve relative to what we saw today. But we have to go do it. We have to give an honest, genuine effort in all the areas we know.”