The Hoyas have already had quite a difficult non-conference schedule with games in the Bahamas against Florida, Wisconsin, and Butler, but their first big home test came last Wednesday against the Jayhawks. Kansas has recovered after an early throttling at the hands of Kentucky to win three straight against Tennessee, Michigan State, and Florida, and was hoping to avoid the vengeance of Georgetown after an 86-64 home win by the Jayhawks in the 1st game of this home-and-home series last December. CHD’s Jon Teitel was at the Verizon Center for this tasty tilt earlier this week, but the game itself ended up taking a back seat to a pre-game presentation by the home team that turned into a front-page story.
One of my co-workers had considered taking her granddaughter to this game…until learning that even seats up in the 400 level were going for $50 a pop. The upside of staying home to watch it on TV was the chance to hear Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery do their thing on the mic. Kansas does not visit the East Coast every month so there were plenty of scouts who signed up to see the action in person, as well as numerous notable names from the world of basketball: Bob Ferry (2-time NBA Executive of the Year), Kevin Grevey (1978 NBA champion), and even the great Bob McAdoo (2000 NBA Hall of Fame inductee).
However, the most important image prior to tip-off was the entire Georgetown roster coming out for layup lines in black t-shirts with “I Can’t Breathe” spelled out on the front in white letters. This phrase has become part of the national lexicon after being uttered on video by Eric Garner, who died last summer after a police officer placed him in a chokehold during an arrest. The Hoyas became the first college basketball team to wear such shirts.
The Hoyas got off to a super-slow start as Kansas built a 28-15 lead midway through the first half. Jayhawks coach Bill Self dug deep into his bench, with eight different players making a basket in the first 20 minutes. The Hoyas only made one shot from behind the arc in the first half, but used a 15-1 run to take the lead just before halftime thanks to making more FTs (11) than their opponents attempted (8).
After five straight points by Georgetown big man Josh Smith (en route to a game-high 20 points) gave the Hoyas a 44-41 lead early in the second half, Coach Self called a timeout as the home crowd came alive. Kansas guard Brannen Greene only played six minutes in the first half after picking up three fouls, but he made up for it in a big way in the second half. After the timeout Greene made three straight threes within a 2-minute span to give his team a 51-47 lead and force Georgetown coach John Thompson III to call a timeout of his own.
McDonald’s All-American/Kansas forward Cliff Alexander received a lot of pub during the first few weeks of the season. However, the best freshman on the court this evening was Georgetown freshman LJ Peak: he scored 18 points on a variety of 3-point shots, kept making layups while getting fouled as he drove to the hoop, and even contributed three steals for the second straight game after only having three total steals in his first six games. The entire crowd was standing and screaming during the final two minutes, but Kansas made 7-8 free throws in the last 60 seconds to clinch a 75-70 win. In addition to notching another “W” on one of the strongest non-conference schedules in the nation, it allowed the visiting team fans to break into a little “Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, KU” chant.
D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Perry Ellis each finished with a double-double, but their combined 7-30 shooting performances made them two of the quietest double-doubles I have ever witnessed. Smith was unstoppable in the paint for the Hoyas, but on the occasions he did not put the ball up immediately he would get double or triple-teamed, resulting in a game-high five turnovers. Greene was equally unstoppable, making all five of his 3-point attempts and maintaining his perfection (9-9) from the free throw line this season.
Kansas was the first team to come out for the postgame press conference, and when a reporter asked Coach Self about the “I Can’t Breathe” shirts he said he did not know about it in advance.
When Coach JT3 and 2 of his players came into the media room for their turn, the first several questions were about the game. I decided to jump in and ask them about the decision to wear the shirts, which led to a long monologue from the coach. (audio below)
He explained that the team had watched the Ferguson grand jury announcement and subsequent riots while they were in the Bahamas during the Battle 4 Atlantis. The players expressed their desire to make some sort of statement, and after a couple weeks of thoughtful discussion they decided to go with the t-shirts, although it was not just an effort to copy the previous displays of some NBA players earlier this month. Smith clarified that the team was not wearing the shirts for the purpose of denigrating the police: they simply wished to extend their condolences to the victims and their families with a public display of solidarity. Not everyone believes that athletes should share their views on hot-button social issues, but at least in this instance: Hoya Saxa!