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Hoyas' big night might be a breakthrough

WASHINGTON -- If there was any lingering doubt that Monday was Georgetown's night -- the night it would finally put a complete performance together, the night it would demonstrate how much better than its 12-5 record it really is -- Jabril Trawick wiped it away just in time for Jack the Bulldog to take his halftime skateboard run.

In retrospect, Trawick's step-back 3-pointer was preceded by one of Villanova's better defensive possessions of the half. The Hoyas forward was isolated on the wing and defended well. It was a short possession -- just 10 seconds into the shot clock. Trawick is more of a broad-shouldered battering ram than a 3-point shooter by trade: He'd attempted just 28 3s all season entering Monday night.

It was an ill-advised attempt, no doubt about it, the kind Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono said the Wildcats didn't force enough. But Trawick squared up and banged home that step-back 3 anyway, and the result was a 42-19 lead over the fourth-ranked team in the country -- and, after the 78-58 final was in the books, a full look at just how good Georgetown can be when all its proverbial cylinders are firing.

"I think they're a really good team," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

That's easy for Wright to say, given the thorough beating his top-five team suffered at the Hoyas' hands. It was diplomatic to boot. Villanova's first half was easily its worst 20 minutes of basketball of the season, and almost certainly its worst 20 minutes since the first half of the first Creighton game in 2013-14. Afterward, Georgetown coach John Thompson III readily admitted the Wildcats weren't at their best.

"As a team that puts you in a bind in so many ways, they had an off night," he said. "We had a lot to do with them having an off night, but they didn't have their best night."

Even so, Georgetown was at least as good as Villanova was bad, and maybe better. The Hoyas' defense held the Wildcats, who average a league-best 1.14 points per possession in Big East play, to .59 points per trip in the first half. The Hoyas were vicious in the half court, swarming any penetration with multiple defenders, poking and prodding and forcing the turnovers that fed one easy bucket after another.

In this regard, Trawick, and not center Josh Smith or guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, was Georgetown's best player. His hard-nosed immovability on the defensive end serves to obscure his efficient scoring and ballhandling on offense. But those aforementioned cylinders included Smith, too, the massive center experiencing a senior-year renaissance in D.C. It included Smith-Rivera, perhaps the Big East's best combo guard, and center Mikael Hopkins, a vertical force on the back line, and off-guard L.J. Peak, a spurty freshman scorer.

"The skill level at every position makes them very difficult to play," Wright said. "But also the athleticism and speed in transition makes them really difficult."

They also, after Monday, must include freshman Isaac Copeland. For most of the season, as the class of 2014's 16th-ranked incoming freshman struggled to grasp the Princeton offense, Copeland was a non-factor. Before the Hoyas' home win over Butler on Saturday -- when Copeland hit a key late 3 to help secure the win -- John Thompson III's marquee recruit was averaging just 4.3 points in 13.9 mintes per game. There were occasional flashes of immense talent, ball skills uncommon to a 6-foot-9 frame, but they were too few to trust.

On Monday, Copeland finally put it all together. He finished with 17 points and six rebounds on 5-of-6 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. His five buckets came on a mix of gliding interior drives and coolly taken jump shots. Two of his free throws came midway through the second half, when Villanova had cut the lead to 12 and looked like it might have a Syracuse-style surprise left in store. Copeland finished without an assist, but he demonstrated plenty of passing touch on a late waved-off dump pass to Smith. All of a sudden, after a mostly invisible freshman season, Copeland's bright future was easy to see.

So it was with the Hoyas generally, who have always looked better than their record this season. They nearly knocked off Wisconsin in the Bahamas in November before falling by 3, lost another close game that week to Butler, and fell just short of Kansas at home in December. All five of their losses have come against potential (or guaranteed) NCAA tournament teams, and only one (at Xavier on Dec. 31) came by double digits.

Visually, the Hoyas could be a cognitively dissonant watch. They were a physically imposing defensive team that only sporadically played good defense, and a clearly-skilled offensive team that entered Monday night ranked eighth in the Big East in points per possession.

On Monday, it all came rushing to the surface, and it ended with Georgetown students rushing the court. Afterward, Thompson said he would have preferred the students at a program that still very much regards itself as a national power hadn't celebrated like a mid-major outfit.

"The students watch a lot of TV," Thompson III said. "So they're excited, and they stormed the court. I probably wish they hadn't done that, but they watch a lot of TV."

A few minutes later, when asked if Monday's performance changed his expectations for the season in any way, Thompson was even more succinct.

"No," he said.

And why not? Yes, Villanova was bad. Yes, the Hoyas had a brilliant, everything-working, Trawick-step-back-3s-are-falling kind of night. But somewhere in that perceptual jumble is the reality of a Georgetown team finally showing more than hints of just how good it might be.

"I think you saw the best of them tonight," Wright said.