Just when it seemed safe to declare Georgetown's fading NCAA tournament hopes dead and buried, the Hoyas managed to come up with a massive victory to inspire hope of an unlikely February revival.
Markel Starks scored a team-high 16 points and Georgetown out-worked Michigan State on the glass and stifled the Spartans defensively, a formula that resulted in a 64-60 victory on Saturday evening in New York. The Hoyas snapped a five-game losing streak, their longest since they also lost five in a row during the 2008-09 season.
If the absence of injured forwards Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson takes some of the steam out of Georgetown's upset, consider what Michigan State has already accomplished shorthanded. The injury-plagued Spartans (19-3, 8-1) have won while missing key players all season and were five days removed from winning in overtime at No. 15 Iowa without Payne and Dawson.
Though Georgetown is still only 12-9 overall and 3-6 in the Big East even with Saturday's big win, the Hoyas now at least have another eye-catching victory on their resumé to go with previous wins against Kansas State and VCU. They also have a chance to pile up some league wins the next few weeks with upcoming games at DePaul, home against Butler and Providence and at St. John's and Seton Hall.
Reeling off a string of victories won't be easy for a Georgetown team that lacks any interior scoring threats. Last year's star Otto Porter is in the NBA, heir apparent Greg Whittington tore his ACL and got dismissed from the program and mammoth center Joshua Smith was declared academically ineligible for the rest of the season in early January.
One of the keys for Georgetown going forward will be developing other scoring options besides standout guards Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Mikael Hopkins (10 points) and Jabril Trawick (8 points) offered some support Saturday, but what made the difference for the Hoyas was their defense and rebounding.
With Keith Appling struggling and Michigan State lacking two of its other top four scorers, the Spartans only shot 39.6 percent from the field. Gary Harris had 20 points, but Michigan State lacked interior scorers and hoisted up 29 3-pointers as a result. Georgetown also exploited the Spartans on the glass, grabbing 15 offensive rebounds and winning the battle on the boards 37-30.
Though personnel was surely a factor for Michigan State, Tom Izzo was adamant after the game that desire also played a role.
An oddly timed non-league game against a struggling opponent didn't inspire the same laser-eyed focus the Spartans had against Michigan and Iowa State in their previous two games. Conversely, this game was a potential season saver for Georgetown, and it showed.
Georgetown is still going to have to put together a brilliant February to make this result matter, but at least the Hoyas have hope. That's more than they had as recently as a few days ago.