Tonight’s game between Kansas and Georgetown was about making statements. Kansas, and the Big 12 Conference, made the last one, but Georgetown of the Big East, might have provided the most memorable one.
The Jayhawks, spurred on by four second-half three pointers from sophomore Brannen Greene, came away with a 75-70 win over the Hoyas, who took the floor for pre-game warmups wearing black T-shirts with “I Can’t Breathe” on the front, becoming the latest team whose players chose to call attention to the incident – and eventual grand jury decision – in New York in which Eric Garner said those words before his death during an arrest attempt by New York City police last July.
Coming into the game, the Big 12 and the Big East sported the two best overall records among its conference members in the country, but the Big East has had the more noteworthy victories, including wins against North Carolina, Oklahoma and Michigan in the first month. The Hoyas, who has already defeated then No. 18 Florida at Battle 4 Atlantis in The Bahamas, started out slow in its bid for another scalp for the Big East. Admittedly, both teams were sluggish for the most part in the first half, as the teams combined for 20 first half turnovers – 10 by each team.
Making up for their sluggishness, the Jayhawks were deadly from behind the arc, as they hit five of eight attempts from three, including four in a five-minute span midway through the half to build a double-digit lead. The last of that spate of threes was from Devonte’ Graham, giving Kansas a 27-15 lead with 7:13 left in the first. Graham then split a pair of free throws, giving Kansas its largest lead of 13.
Georgetown’s response, while diametrically different in approach from Kansas’ long-range shooting, was equally swift and punishingly effective as the Hoyas stormed back with a 15-1 run to take the lead. The Hoyas attacked the basket with dribble penetration out of the Princeton offense, led by preseason Big East Player of the Year D’Vauntes Smith Rivera, who scored six points in that run – four on free throws and one on a tip-in of an L.J. Peak missed layup. Peak provided the only made perimeter shot in that run, draining a three with 3:47 left to cut Kansas’ lead to 29-26.
Peak, along with center Joshua Smith, had a very good rhythm going in the Hoyas’ Princeton offense. Smith gave fits to the Kansas bigs in the paint, as the 350-pound space eater scored 20 points to lead the team. He also fed Peak with a couple of good passes from the high post to provide lay-up opportunities at the basket. Peak started the year scoring in double figures in his first three career games, but the freshman came in to this game scoring only 15 points in his last four games. Tonight, Peak drove into the lane consistently, and his layup off of a fast break game Georgetown a 30-29 lead with 1:44 left in the first.
Frank Mason III finished the half with a layup to give the Jayhawks a 34-32 lead into halftime.
The beginning of the second half once again saw Kansas build a lead, and once again saw Georgetown respond. After Mason hit a couple of free throws to build a five-point spread, the Hoyas went on another spurt, this time a 10-2 run to send the Hoyas into a 44-41 lead and the Verizon Center crowd into a frenzy. Smith scored five points in the run, including a three-point play for a 42-41 Hoya lead and a thunderous dunk on the next possession to give Georgetown its largest lead of three with 13:48 left.
In stepped Greene, who had played only 14 minutes combined and was scoreless in his last two games, against Michigan State and Florida. Against another high-profile opponent, he was ready this time, especially when the Jayhawks needed him most.
Off of a Mason drive, Greene drilled a corner three to tie the game at 44. Two possessions later, Greene spotted up from the wing and nailed another long ball for a one-point KU lead at 48-47. Greene ended his two-minute, three 3-pointer outburst by nailing another wing triple off a pass from Perry Ellis for a 51-47 Kansas lead. Greene hit all five of his three-point attempts in the game.
Greene’s heroics were much needed, as Ellis, the team’s leading scorer, had one of his worst shooting games of the season. Ellis’ 13 points and 10 rebounds were mitigated by his 4-of-15 shooting, as he was routinely muscled out of the paint by Smith.
Georgetown also saw its star player earn a double-double but struggle shooting, as Smith-Rivera went an even worse 3-of-15 from the field. He finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Kansas held onto the lead for the rest of the way, but Georgetown had a chance to take the lead with a minute to go. Smith-Rivera saw a corner three rim in-and-out with the Hoyas down one. Smith committed an over-the-back foul on the rebounding action, and Cliff Alexander made two free throws for a 70-67 lead. A turnover and another missed three on the Hoyas next two possessions led to Kansas icing the game from the foul line.
The game was some parts ragged and some parts enthralling, but both the Jayhawks and Hoyas were able to make statements in many ways on the court. Kansas had the last word, and came away with an impressive road victory.
[Cover photo (Brannen Greene) courtesy of Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports]