- CSNwashington.com - Sunday, January 19, 2014

There is no elephant in the room. It’s quite clear that during the second half of games, Georgetown’s current active roster struggles to score like an asthmatic struggles to breathe.

The Hoyas went the final 9:44 without a field goal in Saturday’s 67-57 loss to Seton Hall. The offensive scuffling cannot be brushed aside as an anomaly either. The same players let a 17-point lead turn into a 13-point loss at Xavier on Wednesday. The same players didn’t score for the final 6:14 versus the Musketeers.

It’s not a matter of the Hoyas hyperventilating over the final tense minutes. It’s not a matter of scheme no matter what the 30,000-foot observers say. It’s a matter of the roster lacking specific skill sets needed against suffocating defenses. It’s a matter of who is not available.

Center Joshua Smith, Georgetown’s third-leading scorer, missed a fourth straight game with a lingering academic issue. Starting guard Jabril Trawick (broken jaw) is more defense than offense. He’s also most definitely out several more weeks. The rotation has turned tighter accordingly.

“We’re undermanned, but that’s not an excuse,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said following the Hoyas’ third loss in four games. “We have enough pieces where we can figure it out. We just have to figure it out how we have to continue to play differently with who we have now.”

Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard empathizes with Thompson’s current dilemma. The Pirates, now fully healthy, dealt with several injuries earlier in the season.

“I know what’s it’s like to play without starters,” Willard said after the Pirates snapped Georgetown’s 16-game home winning streak . “When you take those two guys off the team, you will lose games when you’re up 17. You will blow leads because the stuff that you used to run to sustain leads you can’t run anymore. “

Georgetown led Seton Hall by 10 early in the second half and 47-43 with 11:39 remaining. The 3-point shooting Pirates took the lead for good with a 17-4 run. The Hoyas shot 23.1 percent from the field in the second half.

“I could see the frustration on John’s face because there are things he wants to run that he can’t run because they’re without two starters,” Willard said.

Not that Willard or any opposing coach is taking pity on the now limited Hoyas. Stop guards and leading scorers D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks, stop the offense. Seton Hall held the backcourt pair to 7 of 24 shooting including 1 of 10 from beyond the 3-point arc.

“I think Smith-Rivera and Starks are probably two of the best guards in the country,” Willard said. “I challenged our guys to try and stop them. I thought we did a great job of making the shots they made were tough shots.

“We tried to make other guys make some shots.”

The other guys actually made shots or at least plays this time. Mikael Hopkins produced the best game of his college career with a career-high 15 rebounds and 11 points. Aaron Bowen posted personal bests with 13 points and seven rebounds.

The thing is neither player can consistently score in conventional sets or scares the opposition with the ball in their hands. Same for Nate Lubick, same for essentially every player outside of Smith-Rivera, Starks and occasionally freshman Reggie Cameron. Defensive assets, sure. Providers of energy, generators of hustle plays, yes. Capable of carrying the offense even for a few minutes a game, not so much.

Hopkins not only produced a strong performance that had his coach gushing postgame, he also produced a true honest assessment of how teams are defending Georgetown.

“With the way teams play us defensively, laying off me and Nate [Lubick], it makes the offense not run as smoothly as possible,” Hopkins said.

Starks and Smith-Rivera can score in bunches with an array of shots. Opponents can limit their good looks with double teams and by choking off any driving lines with sagging defenders. 

Smith’s status is the wild card. Thompson has remained vague about a possible return for the former UCLA transfer, who commands attention on the low block, but has frustrated his coach with suspect rebounding and defensive effort. Possible outcomes range from returning any day to not again this season and beyond. Smith continues practicing with the team, according to Thompson, but he was not at the Verizon Center for Saturday’s loss.

Georgetown entered the season looking like a true Big East title contender. Full roster wins earlier this season over Kansas State and VCU have the Hoyas in the NCAA Tournament Field of 68 mix. Plenty of season remains before bubble bursting talk should turn from hypothetical to serious, but the trend is not their friend. Marquette, Monday’s foe, has been dealing with its own struggles. Pick up a victory against the Golden Eagles and Hoya nation can exhale, at least a little.

Thompson’s been cornered in recent years by injuries, suspension and scuffling play. For the most part, he’s found a way. Doing so this time requires breathing life into an offense lacking depth, lacking all the expected options.

“We’re not the same group that we thought we were going to be at this point,” Thompson said. “That’s not an excuse, that’s real. So now, we have to figure out the best way for this group to win.”

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