Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh that’s Georgetown basketball baby hhheeeeelllll yeah
— jeff (@unclejeffgreen) January 5, 2012
The No. 9 Georgetown Hoyas (13-1, 3-0 Big East) notched another huge victory tonight, coming back from 14 down at halftime to defeat No. 20 Marquette (12-3, 1-1 Big East) with a frenetic effort in the closing minutes. Junior Hollis Thompson sat for most of the second half, but entered and responded with three clutch shots to complete the astonishing Hoya comeback. He finished with 16 points and senior Henry Sims contributed 13 of his own to go alongside a strong defensive effort. Fellow senior Jason Clark steadied the Hoyas throughout the game, keeping them in the game almost singlehandedly at times while putting up 26 points.
After a promising start to the game, things quickly spiraled out of control for Georgetown. The Hoyas trailed by 17 with 13 minutes left in the second half, a seemingly insurmountable margin considering their ineffectiveness at both ends of the court. At that point, Georgetown’s five consisted of Clark along with four freshmen–Otto Porter, Jabril Trawick, Greg Whittington, and Mikael Hopkins.
For many teams, putting that much inexperience on the floor at such a crucial moment might look like a white flag. Georgetown’s freshmen, however, have shown a precocious ability to handle the pressures of Big East basketball, and they rewarded head coach John Thompson III’s faith in them yet again.
The first signs of life came when Clark hit a three-pointer, followed seconds later by Trawick swiping a Marquette pass and feeding Hopkins for a fast break layup. From there, it was a slow and steady march back to even, made possible by a revitalized Hoya defense. After spending much of the game in a porous 2-3 zone, Georgetown employed a suffocating man-to-man defense. The key was the length (not to mention the tenacious effort) of the freshmen, in particular Whittington, who locked down Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom (only five of his 18 points came in the second half) and secured a steal with just over two minutes remaining that led to the Hoyas’ first lead of the second half.
“We were just rolling,” Hollis Thompson said of watching Clark work with the four freshmen. “They couldn’t score. I don’t know how long it was but it felt like they couldn’t get a basket for a long time.”
Of course, there could be no comeback unless the Hoyas started hitting shots. They did so with ease in the second half, shooting 76.2 percent from the field and missing just two field goals the rest of the way after going down by 17. (Georgetown’s shooting from the free throw line was a different story–the Hoyas were an abysmal 13-for-23 from the stripe.) While the freshmen were the key on defense, it was the upperclassmen who took control on the offensive end.
Thompson was the hero in the closing minutes. The junior checked in with 5:47 remaining after watching his teammates cut the deficit to five, but he wasn’t cold coming off the bench. Thompson didn’t miss a shot down the stretch, knocking down back-to-back jumpers to tie the game before draining a three-pointer with 24 seconds remaining that proved to be the game-winner.
Despite Thompson’s late game heroics, the real story of tonight’s game was Clark’s outstanding play from start to finish. Clark’s three-point shot was missing in the first half, despite some open looks early. In the second half, he kept the Hoyas in the game, penetrating on his own when the offense stagnated and coming up with key defensive plays down the stretch.
The team’s senior leader did not receive any preseason accolades, but Clark is certainly making a case for himself with his poise, especially in the face of a 17-point deficit. Thompson III lauded the senior for his play, as he felt Clark’s renewed effort on defense played a crucial role in the comeback.
“The first half he was missing shots and he was down on himself because he was missing shots,” the coach said. “From the very first possession of the second half you saw his focus change that I’m going to guard that guy. As he focused in on his defense, the ball started going in the basket. His defense set the tone and his offense followed.”
Sims put it in simpler terms when describing his fellow senior: “When he focuses in, you can’t score on him and you can’t stop him from scoring.”
The Hoyas hit the road for a matchup with West Virginia on Saturday at 12 p.m. With UConn losing to Rutgers yesterday and Duke falling to Temple tonight, a win over the Mountaineers could move the Hoyas up even further in the rankings. Next week, Vox will be back in full force for the Hoyas’ home game on Monday night against Cincinnati, live blog and all.