Late-Game Inconsistency Haunts Hoyas in 2017-18 Campaign
Patrick Ewing’s (CAS ’85) first campaign as head coach of the Georgetown men’s basketball team provided excitement and reason for optimism, but the season was marred by blown leads and one of the weakest nonconference schedules in the nation.
After the firing of longtime Head Coach John Thompson III and the departure of the Hoyas’ two top scorers from the 2016-17 season, guards Rodney Pryor and L.J. Peak, the Hoyas faced a rebuilding year in which expectations were not high.
Georgetown was picked to finish ninth out of 10 teams in the Big East in a preseason coaches’ poll; most projections had the Hoyas finishing at 5-13 in the conference.
Despite signs of promise, the Hoyas were plagued by inconsistency and youthful mistakes, finishing with an overall record of 15-15 and a 5-13 record in the Big East.
Then-junior center Jessie Govan and then-junior forward Marcus Derrickson were bright spots for the Hoyas, leading the team in scoring and rebounding while shooting over 50 percent from the field. Both players thrived in Ewing’s post-heavy offense.
Govan increased his scoring from 10 points a game as a sophomore to 18 points per game as a junior last season, pulling down twice as many rebounds. Derrickson, meanwhile, doubled his scoring and rebounding while becoming a deadly outside threat, shooting 46.5 percent from three. The two took turns carrying the Hoyas on offense, with Derrickson’s key game-tying three pointer in a double-overtime victory over St. John’s Jan. 20 serving as a highlight of the season.
In a surprising move, Derrickson chose to leave Georgetown on April 9 and enter the NBA draft after the Hoyas’ season ended. Derrickson’s gamble paid off, as he secured a two-way contract with the Golden State Warriors in October.
Still, Ewing had nothing but positive words to say about Derrickson’s move to the professional leagues.
“I’m happy for Marcus. I’m happy he was able to get a two-way deal,” Ewing said at the Georgetown men’s basketball media day.
Though initially unhappy with the loss of one of his two best players from last season, Ewing understands Derrickson’s decision to leave and said that the move will improve how potential recruits view the program.
“I wasn’t happy that he told me he was leaving, but ... every kid that plays basketball dreams of getting to the NBA,” Ewing said. “When you have guys that you can add on our NBA wall of fame, that definitely makes you look good.”
Despite the individual successes of Georgetown’s top players last season, the team suffered from an inability to close out games.
On several occasions last year, the Hoyas had comfortable leads against quality opponents before crumbling during the stretch and losing in heartbreaking fashion. Overtime losses to Syracuse, Butler, Xavier and Marquette highlighted the Hoyas’ inexperience and inconsistent guard play. Over the course of the season, the Hoyas surrendered second-half leads in six of their 13 Big East losses.
The Hoya’s weak nonconference schedule last season also raised questions. By the season’s end, Georgetown’s rating percentage index, which accounts for strength of schedule in addition to record, stood at 165. The figure was the worst in the Big East by a large margin, and no team that made the NCAA tournament had a worse RPI. The Hoyas routinely dominated their opponents in nonconference play, avoiding having to execute under pressure.
Reflecting on his first year in charge of the program, Ewing admitted he had to adjust to coaching in college after 13 years of experience as an assistant coach in the NBA.
“College is a lot different than the NBA,” Ewing said. “There’s a lot more that goes into college coaching; your responsibility is a lot more.”
Despite Georgetown’s poor nonconference schedule and its struggles in the Big East, the team has reason for optimism this season: Govan returns as a unanimous All-Big East First Team preseason selection, and the Hoyas will welcome aboard two dynamic freshman guards in Mac McClung and James Akinjo.
As Ewing becomes more comfortable behind the helm and as the team gains chemistry,, Georgetown can build off its mistakes last season, leaning on Govan, its coaching staff and touted freshmen.