Underclassmen key to Hoyas’ upset victory over Louisville, 71-68
On a night when twelfth-ranked Georgetown’s upperclassmen shot a combined 8-26 from the field, beating the fourth-ranked, undefeated Louisville Cardinals on their home floor would require an extraordinary effort from the Hoyas’ youngsters.
And they did not disappoint.
Sophomore Markel Starks was perfect from beyond the arc, knocking down four threes in the second half on his way to a career-high 20 points. Freshman Otto Porter‘s spectacular arrival on the national scene, recording 14 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, was heard round the world. Fellow freshman Jabril Trawick played 21 of the fiercest minutes a Hoya has played so far this season, roughing up the Cardinals in their own house.
The stellar win in Louisville improves Georgetown’s record to 11-1, and extends their winning streak to nine games, a stretch of victories unmatched since the 2006-07 season.
The freshman from Sikeston, Missouri already made a name (and a nickname) for himself in non-conference play, but playing on his biggest stage yet, Porter showed why he’s the clear standout among a crowd of overachieving youngsters on the Hoyas’ roster. The 6-foot-8 forward posted his first career double-double and helped ice the game for Georgetown, scoring six of the Hoyas’ final eight points.
With the Hoyas up just four with 40 seconds to go, Porter calmly stepped to the line and hit two free throws. Twenty seconds later, after a Louisville trey (and a missed free throw by senior captain Jason Clark) reduced the Georgetown lead to three, Porter was fouled again and drained his free throws to make it a two-possession game. Porter did go the line again with nine seconds left and missed both free throws, but we’ll forgive him since the game was essentially out of reach by that point.
Otto-matic’s performance made it clear why Georgetown coach John Thompson III has called him the most prepared freshman he’s ever coached. His cool in crunch time notwithstanding, Porter is able to make his mark on the game with ruthless efficiency. His 14 points came on 5-for-6 shooting, and he seems to have a preternatural ability to be in the right place at the right time—like when he broke a 63-63 tie with an offensive board and putback with less than two minutes remaining.
Even Louisville head coach Rick Pitino gave Porter his due after the 71-68 Hoyas victory: “Otto Porter is really a good freshman. He had 14 rebounds in the game and he took over the game rebounding-wise.”
Porter was hardly the only underclassman Hoya making his presence felt against the Cardinals. Trawick, who has usually been the eight or ninth man off the bench this season, took over in the first half and helped keep Georgetown in the game after Louisville jumped out to an early lead. Scoring all of his career-high nine points in the first half, the freshman didn’t turn the ball over once while his teammates were committing a season-high 16 turnovers.
Although Porter’s heroics perhaps outshone Stark’s performance, the sophomore’s sharpshooting throughout the second half was the key to the Hoyas’ leaad. The young point guard finished non-conference play with great games against American and Memphis, and he managed to top those performances tonight. Starks led all scorers with a career-high 20 points, and he almost single-handedly shot the Hoyas into the lead in the second half. Connecting on all four of his three-point attempts, Starks scored 16 of Georgetown’s first 31 points after halftime. He missed just one shot all night, finishing 7-for-8 from the field (and 2-for-2 from the charity stripe).
With road wins over nationally-ranked Alabama and Louisville under their belt, the Hoyas have demonstrated twice over their ability to go into some of the most intimidating venues in college basketball and win. Such accomplishments in the second half of 2011 bode well for the first half of 2012, during which Georgetown will visit the unforgiving home courts of the likes of West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Marquette.
Coach Thompson ceded the significance of the win for his young Hoyas, but maintained that this is just one stop in a long season. “We are one game into league play,” Thompson said. “It was a very good big win against a very good team in a difficult place to play. We aren’t worrying about validation right now. We just want to try to accumulate wins.”
On Saturday, the Hoyas face a classic trap game against the Providence Friars at the Verizon Center (2 p.m. ET). Coming on the heels of tonight’s exhilarating victory and immediately prior to a battle against nationally-ranked Marquette next Wednesday, Georgetown must not overlook Providence. If the Hoyas take care of the Friars on Saturday, as they should, they ought to find themselves ranked in the top ten come January 2nd.
As the Hoyas venture deeper into the grueling Big East conference schedule, Hoya faithful would do well to remember coach Thompson’s words about the underclassmen tonight: “[Starks] hit some big shots for us tonight when we needed shots to be made. Collectively, I don’t think you can look at anybody on this team as a measure of points. He made some big plays and his defensive got better in the second half. The same thing I said about the freshmen, these guys are players. Age, class, maturation goes out the window. We are out there just playing ball.”