Georgetown staying on guard

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Sports,College,Craig Stouffer,Georgetown University

Markel Starks, D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera are key to Hoyas' surge

Georgetown won't be the same team when it faces Cincinnati (22-10) in the Big East quarterfinals Thursday that it was when it topped the Bearcats during the regular season.

But the team the Hoyas (24-5) have become offensively of late began to emerge in that 62-55 victory at Fifth Third Arena on Feb. 15.

That was the second game of the season in which junior guard Markel Starks and freshman guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera both scored in double figures, with 17 and 14 points, respectively. They accounted for half of Georgetown's points in the contest, a contribution that has proved crucial during the second half of the year.

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No. 1 Georgetown vs. No. 9 Cincinnati
When » Thursday, noon
Where » Madison Square Garden, New York
TV » ESPN

Five times in the final nine games of the regular season they both scored at least 12 points. Starks (12.4 points per game) didn't need to against DePaul as Smith-Rivera (9.0 ppg) had a career-high 33 points. Neither hit that mark in Georgetown's first game against Syracuse, in which leading scorer and Big East player of the year Otto Porter Jr. had 33 points, or against Rutgers, in which he had 28.

In Saturday's regular-season finale rematch with the Orange, Starks used a career-high five 3-pointers en route to 19 points, and Smith-Rivera added 15 points with three jumpers from beyond the arc.

For Georgetown coach John Thompson III, it was by design, not because Porter (16.4 ppg) hadn't gotten his offensive game going. Starks and Smith-Rivera could have done the same at Carrier Dome.

"Immediately after that game, [Smith-Rivera] knew he had some open looks that he normally would put in," Thompson said. "He told me -- we're still in the locker room in the Dome or definitely before we got home -- 'Next time I'm not going to miss those shots, Coach.'?"

Porter's surprising efficiency from 3-point range, where he shot 44.0 percent to finish second in the Big East, has overshadowed that Starks was fourth (41.5 percent) and Smith-Rivera was 15th (36.3 percent).

"The first [Syracuse] game, we had those same looks. They just didn't go down," Smith-Rivera said. "We wanted to come back the second time around and knock those shots down."

Their contributions against the Bearcats were also essential when Porter got into early foul trouble and was closely followed by his teammates. Georgetown ended that game with Mikael Hopkins fouled out and three players carrying four personals. Foul trouble was also an issue in the Hoyas' only loss in their last 13 games, at Villanova on March 6.

Cincinnati's loss to the Hoyas came during a stretch of five in six games. It also snapped a four-game winning streak over Georgetown that included a 72-70 victory in overtime in last year's Big East quarterfinals.

"Everybody talks about momentum going into the NCAA tournament and what Louisville did last year," Hoyas junior forward Nate Lubick said about the Cardinals, who used a Big East title as a springboard to reaching the Final Four. "We need to make a run, win some games in this tournament. We're looking to win it."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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