Before the Georgetown Hoyas (3-0, 0-0 Big East) tipped off on Friday night, the buzz was squarely on UCLA star freshman Shabazz Muhammad’s collegiate debut. A couple of hours later, Markel Starks, Otto Porter Jr., and the rest of the Hoyas stole the show with a 78-70 upset victory over the No. 11 Bruins (3-1) at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Starks, who struggled in the first two games of the season, shined with a career-high 23 points in the Legends Classic semifinal. Porter Jr., meanwhile, stuffed the stat sheet in his return from concussion-like symptoms a week ago, scoring 18 points to complement his 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 blocks, and 3 steals.
“I just let the game come to me, trust the offense and if we stay with it we get open shots all day,” Porter Jr. said of his performance. “I just tried to stay within the offense.”
“Otto’s first full game, if you look at the stat sheet, which I normally don’t focus on, was a full game,” his coach, John Thompson III said. “Then there was a lot of other stuff he did that doesn’t show up on this piece of paper. We’re a better team with him on the court and it was good to have him back.”
The Hoyas overcame 15 points from Muhammad and 22 from freshman guard Jordan Adams, as they opened both halves with a sense of urgency, jumping out to a 10-2 lead 3 minutes into the contest. The Bruins eventually found their way back into the game, though Georgetown stayed with them and led by two points at the break. But the manner in which UCLA scored – easy layups and transition buckets – didn’t sit well with Thompson. It’s nothing a few halftime adjustments didn’t fix.
“Absolutely,” Thompson deadpanned when asked if his second half strategy changed the flow of the game. “I know my team has been pretty good when I come into halftime and they have thoughts and ideas.”
Although Thompson was joking around, his team’s adjustment to a 2-3 zone clearly stifled a young Bruin offense that was just incorporating Muhammad into the fold. It paid dividends immediately, as UCLA missed four straight shots and turned the ball over while the Hoyas went on a 12-0 run to open the second half.
“It was effective,” Thompson said of the zone. “They were getting a lot of easy baskets in the first half and I thought it slowed them down just a little bit.”
On the other end of the floor, it was Starks who kept the offense humming, penetrating seemingly at will against the UCLA defense. He found himself alone in the lane with UCLA defenders trailing him on multiple occasions, leading the Hoyas to 36 points in the paint on the night. “We thought that offensively that we had to keep moving and keep cutting, and keep them chasing us,” Thompson said.
Even against a massive UCLA front line led by their 305-pound center Joshua Smith, the Hoyas worked the ball into the paint. Junior Nate Lubick showcased an effective hookshot en route to 11 points, while sophomore Greg Whittington was the main beneficiary of the team’s effective inside-out play with 3 three-pointers.
For the Hoyas, last night’s contest marked one of the rare occurrences where they lost in the size department. Sophomore Mikael Hopkins struggled the most, defending Smith and Travis Wear for much of his 26 foul-plagued minutes. Even in his absence, the Hoyas fared well, spreading around both the scoring and rebounding load.
“This is an unselfish group and they trust each other,” Thompson said.
Less than 24 hours from now, the Hoyas return to the Barclay Center’s parquet hardwood for the finals of the Legends Classic. Their reward for victory is a matchup with the Indiana Hoosiers, the consensus No. 1 team in the nation. Indiana is coming off a 66-53 victory over Georgia on Monday night, despite some early shooting struggles. With the quick turnaround, Thompson realizes the limitations on his team’s preparation abilities, instead choosing to focus on what his team can continue to do right.
“The emphasis, particularly this time of the year, is still on us,” he said. “That’s just the nature of tournament play. Obviously, they [Indiana] are a very good team, much like the team we played tonight was a very good team.”
As it stands now, Georgetown spoiled a much-ballyhooed matchup between Muhammad’s Bruins and Cody Zeller’s Hoosiers. For now, the Hoyas have moved into the national spotlight. A win tomorrow against Indiana would put them at the center of it. Tipoff is set for 10 p.m. from the Barclays Center.
Photos: Keith Levinsky