Starks, Georgetown top DePaul in Big East opener

Benjamin Standig, The Sports Xchange

WASHINGTON -- The first game in the retooled Big East Conference featured a familiar and pleasant ring for Georgetown.

Guard Markel Starks played all 40 minutes and scored 21 points as the Hoyas conquered early offensive struggles in a 61-54 win over DePaul on Tuesday night.

Guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera had 12 points for the Hoyas (9-3, 1-0 Big East). Georgetown wrapped up the calendar year winning eight of nine games, including its 13th consecutive victory over the Blue Demons. Spurred on by Starks, plus its pressure defense and key reserves, Georgetown took the lead for good during a 25-8 run overlapping halftime.

Guard Billy Garrett scored 17 points and guard Brandon Young had 13 for the Blue Demons, who won four of their previous five games.

Playing its third consecutive road game, DePaul (8-6, 0-1) shot 32.7 percent from the field and committed 18 turnovers.

Georgetown shot 46.7 percent and gave the ball away 16 times.

Starks led or was tied for the Hoyas' lead in scoring in each of the past four games.

The senior scored 11 of Georgetown's 13 points over a nine-minute section of the first half before help arrived. In addition to his leading-man role, the enthusiastic Starks also served as a cheerleader.

"I can do both," Starks said before his coach interrupted.

"As talented as he is, you can do a lot of things," Georgetown's John Thompson III said.

Both teams lost possession throughout the largely sleepy first half that ended with the Hoyas ahead 29-25. DePaul committed 12 first-half turnovers, with Georgetown's zone traps causing many of the miscues.

"It got our juices flowing a little bit," Thompson said of the aggressive defensive plays. "It was key. ... I thought it was effective throughout the game."

DePaul outrebounded the Hoyas 39-33 overall and remained in contact with 14 second-chance points, but the Blue Demons offset that production by missing half of their 26 free-throw attempts.

"We need to do a better job of taking care of the basketball, clearly, and we need to make free throws in order to give ourselves a better opportunity," DePaul coach Oliver Purnell said. "I thought we just shot ourselves in the foot time and time again."

DePaul forward Cleveland Melvin made two of 12 shots from the field for six points, 10 below his season average.

Georgetown, which last lost to DePaul in 1994, trailed by eight in the first half before entering halftime on a 14-2 run.

Young's jumper cut Georgetown's lead to 43-40 midway through the second half. The Hoyas countered with an 11-2 spurt, including two baskets from Starks, for a 54-42 lead.

"Tough Big East battle on opening night and on the road," Purnell said. "I told the guys throughout the course of the game this is the way it was going to be on the road in the Big East."

The first half consisted of scoring droughts, many turnovers and a wild final two minutes. DePaul started 1-for-12 from the field but pulled in front with 12 straight points. The Blue Demons led 23-15 after guard Durrell McDonald's 3-pointer with 3:23 remaining in the half.

The Hoyas committed 13 turnovers before halftime and had their own stretch of misfiring before closing the half on a 14-2 spurt.

Smith-Rivera returned to the starting lineup following a one-game benching for returning late to school following the Christmas holiday. The sophomore guard's 3-pointer put the Hoyas in front for good at 24-23.

Hoyas forward Aaron Bowen, who had eight points and six rebounds in 17 minutes, and center Moses Ayegba provided an energy spark during the surge. Bowen's wild heave from beyond the arc at the buzzer fell as Georgetown entered halftime leading by four.

Ayegba, who finished with two points and three blocks, started the second half in place of Joshua Smith, who had five points and one rebound in 14 minutes.

Asked about sitting Smith, who leads the Big East in field-goal percentage at .693, Thompson said, "If he's not productive, we have other guys we can put in there."

NOTES: Georgetown leads the all-time series 22-6. ... DePaul had 12 offensive rebounds, while the Hoyas grabbed just two. ... Georgetown hosts St. John's on Saturday, the same day DePaul wraps up a four-game road swing at Marquette.