We Are Georgetown: Senior Day showdown with Notre Dame

Player(s) to watch

We’ll flip around the usual order of our preview to give top billing to tonight’s featured players: seniors Jason Clark and Henry Sims. It’s the final home game for two players who have been¬†linchpins on this year’s squad.

Clark and Sims took very different paths to get to this point, however. For his first three years on the team, Clark took third-billing in the backcourt behind Chris Wright and Austin Freeman. Still, even with two formidable players in front of him, Clark managed to carve out plenty of playing time. In fact, he’s appeared in every Georgetown game over the past four seasons, and he’s started in every contest since his sophomore year.

“I think about Jason as someone who’s come in and from day one has worked extremely hard,” head coach John Thompson III said. “He’s probably won just about every sprint that we’ve had in practice. You look at him as someone–for most of his career–being in the shadows, but at the same time being a strong, dominant force in those shadows.”

This season, Clark has been one the casting the shadows. The veteran scorer has ¬†been the focus of most opposing teams’ scouting reports, yet he still leads the Hoyas with 14.5 points per game. Clark could easily average more, as Villanova head coach Jay Wright pointed out after Saturday’s game, but he’s as much a facilitator as a scorer, ensuring Georgetown’s offense flows smoothly while waiting for opportune shots (he’s hitting 48.2 percent of his attempts).

Then there’s Sims. While Clark was firmly installing himself in the starting lineup sophomore year, Sims was falling out of the rotation entirely. The 6-foot-10 center was actually more highly regarded as a recruit than Clark and projected to form a dangerous inside tandem with classmate Greg Monroe. Instead, Sims found his minutes dwindling into the single digits during Big East play in 2010. In the Hoyas’ final two games, he didn’t even get off the bench.

“Henry is someone who has epitomized growth, someone who has epitomized in many ways the overall collegiate experience,” Thompson said. “A young man ready to go out into the world as a senior is much different than who you are walking in the door. And every year, in various aspects of Henry’s life, on the court and off, we’ve seen significant growth.”

Junior year was an improvement for Sims, but this season has been an incredible leap forward. In his first three seasons, Sims scored in double-figures three times; this year he’s done it 17 times. He’s upped his rebounding average from 3.2 boards per game to 5.5, and he’s somehow emerged as the best passer on the team, leading the Hoyas with 3.4 assists per game.

Even though his play has fallen off some during conference play (just 39.2 percent shooting against Big East opponents), Sims is still far, far away from the player he was two years ago. Simply being a credible big man has elevated Georgetown from bubble-team expectations to top-10 contender.

“It’s been a ride,” Sims said. “I think I learned a lot in these past four years, a lot of stuff I needed to learn. Senior Day will be an emotional day for me, but it’ll be well-earned.”

When we last saw our Hoyas

Georgetown took a figurative punch in the face from Seton Hall last week, and then they (specifically, Otto Porter) took a literal one from Villanova on Saturday. Porter and the Hoyas showed their resiliency, however, brushing off the physical Wildcats to earn a 67-46 victory.

Tonight’s villain

Notre Dame has exceeded preseason expectations every bit as much as Georgetown this year. Before losing to St. John’s on Saturday, the Fighting Irish were probably the hottest team in the Big East, winning nine straight. And they’ve done it all without star forward Tim Abromaitis, who tore his ACL in November, replacing his output with contributions from all over the court.

“They always have five guys on the court that are a threat,” Thompson said. “They do a great job of sharing the game, they do a great job of hitting the open man. They’re an unselfish team that doesn’t care who scores.”

The Fighting Irish have ridden that team-oriented style of play to third place in the Big East. That makes this a crucial game for the Hoyas, who are just one game behind in the standings. A win will give Georgetown the tiebreaker over Notre Dame and prime position for a two-round bye in the Big East Tournament.

Key to the game

Well, St. John’s held Notre Dame to a seemingly impossible 4-for-31 performance from beyond the arc, so let’s go with perimeter defense. As the robot who’s filling in for Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin put it:

“The stat sheet shows they weren’t able to make their normal number of 3s and that was the difference,” St. John’s assistant coach Mike Dunlap said.

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