The odds-on favorite for 2014 national POY is Creighton senior forward Doug McDermott, the nation’s leading scorer at 26 point per game. After losing only one game in each of the first four months of this season, the Bluejays were hoping that their six point loss at Xavier last Saturday meant that they had already filled their quota for the entire month of March. McDermott is only weeks away from becoming the first three-time AP first-team All-American since Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale a generation ago. Georgetown entered Tuesday night’s game 16-12 overall and in desperate need of a win over a top-10 team to keep their bubble hopes alive. CHD’s Jon Teitel was at the Verizon Center to see one of the greatest scorers in college basketball history work his magic in person.
The crowd gave all the Hoya upperclassmen a well-deserved ovation on Senior Night, which included guard Markel Starks bending down at midcourt to give the floor one final kiss. How did I know it was going to be an exciting game? Gus Johnson/Bill Raftery were courtside for the call! Additionally, there were a ton of celebrities present to watch the Creighton superstar: Washington Wizards youngsters Otto Porter Jr. and Bradley Beal, Porter’s agent David Falk, former NFL commissioner and current chair of Georgetown’s board of directors Paul Tagliabue, NCAA president Mark Emmert, and Big East commissioner Val Ackerman.
The first half was all Georgetown all the time. McDermott missed all three of his three point attempts, did not get to the charity stripe, and his only three field goals came on layups. The Hoyas used a balanced effort to build a big lead. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera made 6-8 field goals including a variety of jumpers and layups and a three from the top of the key as Georgetown made a sizzling 62% of its shots before the break. Junior forward Mikael Hopkins took care of the defensive end of the court, as the biggest of his four blocks was a rejection of a McDermott attempt in the paint. Jabril Trawick broke his jaw in early January and missed the first battle of these two Big East teams, but he made a pair of three point shots and threw down a huge dunk on a half-court alleyoop from Starks that brought the crowd to its feet. Creighton was down 42-28 at halftime, but when I asked my friend Sam (a Georgetown season ticket holder) for a prediction he said that he did not think his boys would be able to hang onto the lead.
Early in the second half two little kids were brought out to do the ever-popular put-on-a-jersey-and-shoes-and-then-make-a-layup contest, but someone forgot to put basketballs out on the court so they just ended up high-fiving an employee…followed by the crowd booing everyone involved. The Bluejays got some much-needed help from senior guard Grant Gibbs after a quiet first half: he made a high-arcing baseline runner, a three from the corner off of an inbound pass, and another three that bounced high in the air before dropping through as he ended up with 17 points on 5-7 field goals.
McDermott started doing All-American things in the second half to help cut into the lead. He sliced through two defenders for layup, making four shots from behind the arc, and grabbing enough rebounds to end up with a double-double. However, the 89% FT shooter missed a key pair of free throws with 10 minutes left that would have cut the lead to 11 points, and it looked like Creighton’s luck had finally run out. Smith-Rivera only made two shots in the second half but the 6’3” guard somehow ended up with a career-high 12 rebounds.
Despite McDermott’s late heroics, the best player on the court was Starks. After not getting to the line at all in the first half, he made all five of his free throw attempts in the second half, ran the offense to perfection while racking up a career-high 11 assists, and made a key steal to preserve his team’s seven-point lead in the final minute. When Coach JT3 subbed out Starks for the final time in front of the home crowd with 10 seconds left, Starks came over to the sideline to give his coach a big hug and his eyes started tearing up as he went down the bench to greet the rest of his teammates.
Creighton might have the better team, but for at least one night Georgetown saved its own season as it won by a final of 75-63. In the postgame press conference I got to ask Coach Greg McDermott if he would let his son try to break the 3000-PT barrier if he was within striking distance in the season finale vs. Providence on Saturday: he said that if you asked Doug’s mother she would say yes, but he said that he knows it is a special number and that if Doug could do it within the framework of the offensive game plan then it just might work.