One day after knocking off No. 11 UCLA, the Georgetown Hoyas (3-1, 0-0 Big East) gave No. 1 Indiana (5-0) all they could handle for 40 minutes. After the contest hit overtime on Otto Porter Jr.’s layup with 4.6 seconds left, though, it was all Hoosiers in an 82-72 win for the Legends Classic championship .
The Hoyas certainly gained a lot of attention over their two days at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, some of which came from the coach on the opposing sideline. “They have a great system and a team of basketball players that are extremely athletic,” said Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean. “You are not going to keep them from doing too many things; they put too many guys on the court that can make plays. I think they will keep improving.”
For Crean, Tuesday night’s contest marked a return to form for his star player, sophomore Cody Zeller. Although the center was battling what he described as asthmatic bronchitis, he recovered from a slow start to pace the Hoosiers with 17 points and 8 rebounds. The Hoosiers complemented their star’s efforts with a balanced attack from tournament MVP Jordan Hulls, who posted 17 points and Yogi Ferrell, who contributed 14 points on the night.
The Hoyas, meanwhile, were led by Porter, who led the charge with 15 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in a wild contest that saw the lead change 11 times. None of those points mattered more than five the end of regulation, when the sophomore put Georgetown on its back with two clutch buckets – a three-pointer with 29 seconds left and the driving layup on their next possession – to send the game into overtime.
“The design was to get the ball and go to the hole, that’s what the plan was,” Porter said of the last play. “I just saw a little opening and I took it.”
It helped that Porter found a mismatch with the tinier Ferrell guarding him. But the play marked the successful culmination of a seven-point comeback in the final minute of the game, one seemingly beyond their youthful roster prior to this week’s tournament.
Unfortunately for the Hoyas, that youth did hurt them in some sense after their comeback in regulation silenced a partisan Hoosier crowd. Mikael Hopkins, Jabril Trawick, and Markel Starks all fouled out in the extra frame, leaving unproven freshmen D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Stephen Domingo to help Porter and company stay in the game.
“It’s so early in the year, our younger guys aren’t ready yet for a team of that caliber,” Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III said.
He paused before adding, “’Yet’ being the operative word.”
The Hoyas lost their flow on offense, unable to hit a single field goal. On the other side, they sent a parade of Indiana players to the line, as the Hoosiers attempted 17 of their 36 free throws in overtime.
“They do a good job of drawing fouls,” Thompson said of Indiana. “They consistently have done that all year and they did it again tonight and they made most of their foul shots. I’m not sure what we could have done differently.”
Before the three players fouled out, they played heavy minutes in a compact six-man rotation. Aside from Porter, Starks led the charge for the Hoyas with 20 points, while sophomore Greg Whittington contributed 12 points. Starks, for one, did not find his second straight scoring outburst surprising. “I can play,” he said. “We have a team full of guys that can play so any given night somebody can have big numbers.”
Both players played key roles in Thompson’s continued use of the 2-3 zone defense that was so effective against UCLA a day prior. But the more-experienced Hoosiers were able to exploit those same looks, leading to 26 points in the paint. Still, Crean was impressed with the Hoyas on defense, particularly the manner in which Whittington’s length bothered Indiana’s perimeter players.
“I think Whittington is one of the underrated, undervalued future stars in college basketball,” he stated. “Everyone knows Otto Porter right now, but Whittington is going to be tremendous.”
After an overnight trip back to the nation’s capital, the Hoyas get a couple of deserved days off before they hit the Verizon Center hardwood against Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday at noon. For now, the sting of what could have been against the Hoosiers remains for a team with internally sky-high expectations.
“This team can grow up, we can grow up a lot,” Thompson said. “We had a lot of guys out there in situations that they’ve never been in before. We can get a lot better. A lot better.”
If there’s a better version of these Hoyas than the one that went toe-to-toe with the nation’s best team, it is a scary proposition for the rest of their opponents. At least now, that belief sits outside of the locker room, as Georgetown leaves Brooklyn on everyone’s radar.
Photos: Keith Levinsky