Updated 8:48 p.m.
Stop if you heard this one: Facing an upstart team outside of the power conferences, the Georgetown Hoyas squandered early momentum, lost their way offensively during the second half and dropped a game odds makers said they wouldn't.
Perhaps the most galling part of the latest upset, a 63-56 loss to Northeastern in the opening round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, is that much went the Hoyas way, at least for a while.
John Thompson III's squad found early success against Northeastern's 3-2 zone. Cutters and low post scorers helped open a 36-25 halftime lead. The Hoyas (1-2) entered the locker room with momentum thanks to an 11-4 run late in the opening half. Let's also note the Huskies' (2-2) top player received three fouls in the first half, another key contributor fouled out with 17 minutes remaining and yet another starter never suited up with a back injury.
Then came the dreaded scoring drought, an all too familiar theme in those previous stunning losses we all know so well they need no reintroduction. Josh Smith sank two free throws, a rare occurrence as the Hoyas otherwise butchered such opportunities, for a 40-26 lead with 17:54 remaining. Within the next minute, Huskies guard Demetrius Pollard, who had 28 points in his previous game, fouled out.
Apparently the Hoyas shooting touch fouled out with him. As the Huskies crawled back, in part because of aggressive transition from defense to offense following Georgetown misses, the Hoyas clanked and clanked. Eleven straight shots found everything but the bottom of the net.
Mikael Hopkins' dunk off a deft Nate Lubick feed with 10:37 remaining ended the misfiring run. The score also ended a 14-0 spurt by Northeastern.
The basket couldn't the right Hoyas' sinking offensive ship. Georgetown shot 36 percent from the field, 18.8 percent (3 of 16) from beyond the arc and a dastardly 60.7 percent (17 of 28) on its free throw tries. Nobody should say the Hoyas lost the game at the free throw line seeing Northeastern also struggled (20 of 33). Pointing to the Huskies 52.2 percent clip (12 of 23) from the field in the second is fair.
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Georgetown's only double-digit scorer had 14 points. Coming back after briefly exiting with an apparent injury, the sophomore guard provided some offensive momentum with two floaters off penetration, the second one giving the Hoyas a 54-51 lead with 4:06 remaining. It would be Georgetown's final basket.
The Hoyas missed their final five field goal attempts and committed two turnovers down the stretch, both by Lubick, who finished with five. After the Huskies made two free throws for a 58-56 lead, Lubick's back pass to Markel Starks was intercepted by Huskies guard T.J. Williams, who sped in for a layup with 1:13 remaining. More missing and miscues from the Hoyas followed.
Georgetown has less than 24 hours to shake off the blow and figure how to deliver some before facing Kansas State on Friday (1 p.m., ESPNU) in a suddenly near must-win game.
Frontcourt frustration: The Hoyas had the size advantage, as they will most games with the 6-foot-10, 350-pound Smith. Northeastern's bigs were the difference makers including Reggie Spencer, who had 18 points and nine rebounds. Scott Eatherton, the aforementioned best player that got into foul trouble, had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Eatherton eventually picked up his fourth foul with over seven minutes remaining, but never got the fifth. Northeastern outscored the Hoyas in the pain 34-26.
They said it: "They just decided to put their head down and drive by us and throw it inside. And when they did, they scored." - Thompson to reporters postgame.
Suspect scoring: Markel Starks finished with nine points - 10 below his season average -, on 2 of 12 shooting. The point guard sat early after picking up two fouls, but he played long enough to dole an assist, even though he didn't. Smith also had nine points, but played only 16 minutes and shot 5 of 9 from the free throw line. After working the ball down low before halftime, Georgetown's perimeter players had difficulties making such passes in the second half even when Smith appeared open.
Hopeful Hopkins: Though he lost his starting job to Smith this season, Hopkins has not pouted. Actually the agile forward has thrived as an energy option off the bench. Often the source of frustration for coaches and fans last season due to inexplicable gaffes and misses, Hopkins led the Hoyas with eight rebounds and made two of his three field goal attempts for five points. Using his springy presence next to the wide-bodied Smith with shooters around the perimeter (Starks, Smith-Rivera, Reggie Cameron) makes for an intriguing lineup should Thompson go that way.
Go deep: Thompson used 11 players in the first half including seldom-used reserves Stephen Domingo, Moses Ayegba and John Caprio. Perhaps a tighter rotation could have helped the Hoyas open a larger first half lead, but with three games in four days and Smith still not a cardio force, the coach chose to spread out the early minutes. Starks picking up two quick fouls surely added to the decision.
They said it, part two: “Our group quickly, quickly, needs to figure out how to compete. We can sit and talk offensive systems, defensive systems, rotations, slides, everything. But we have to compete. We did a poor job of just rolling up your sleeves and competing in the second half.” - Thompson
On deck: Georgetown faces Kansas State, 68-61 losers to Charlotte. The Hoyas have a chance to leave Puerto Rico with an overall winning record should they triumph Friday and Sunday. Even though the loss to Northeastern will ding the overall RPI, a victory over a Big 12 school could end up as the Hoyas best non-conference unless they upset highly ranked Kansas on the road or Michigan State at Madison Square Garden.