Seven days after the sky was falling in a loss to South Florida, the Georgetown Hoyas (14-4, 4-3 Big East) have their swagger back. Behind virtuoso performances from Otto Porter Jr. and Markel Starks, they put away No. 5 Louisville (16-4, 4-3 Big East) 53-51 in a thriller at the Verizon Center this afternoon.
Despite the standout efforts from their usual stars, it was the less-heralded junior Aaron Bowen who saved the game for Georgetown. With 3:38 remaining in the game, Bowen tipped in a missed D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera layup with an acrobatic, behind-the-back finish.
I was almost towards half court, I have never seen anything like it,” Starks said of the play. “I tell him he’s one of the most athletic people on this planet. When the shot went up, he just came out of nowhere, and it was unbelievable.”
“Literally, the dead ball before his basket, he says ‘I’m going to get one [putback] coach, I’m going to get one’ and then he goes out and does it. That’s pretty good,” added Head Coach John Thompson III.
For the Hoyas, it marked the go-ahead basket in a seesaw affair. For Bowen, it marked his only points, although the junior has seen increased playing time since sophomore Greg Whittington was declared academically ineligible.
Porter, who contributed 17 points and 12 rebounds, also came up clutch for Georgetown with three timely rebounds in the final seconds. With the final rebound, he was fouled with two seconds left. After missing the second free throw, Louisville’s Russ Smith threw up a desperation heave at the buzzer – the miss sent the Hoyas to their second straight win, sending the crowd of 17,474 into a frenzy.
But the stretch did not come without its hitches, as the sequence also included a questionable jump ball call on a Porter rebound, coupled with an earlier play where he stepped out of bounds.
But for the sophomore and his teammates, the focus remained on the defensive end, as they successfully prevented the Cardinals from tying up the game. “We defended together,” the Missouri native said. “In the huddle, we told each other we have to stop them and rebound the ball.”
That second half marked a new start for the both teams, as the Cardinals’ frenetic press seemed to tire out the Hoyas by the end of the half. It was a strong contrast to a first half that saw Starks regularly break the press without much help, leading to 9 of his 17 points. Starks – in a performance uncannily similar to last year’s 20-point outburst as part of a Hoya win in Louisville – scored on a series of runners and timely three-pointers.
More importantly, though, Starks played tenacious defense, holding Peyton Siva scoreless on a foul-plagued afternoon for the Big East Preseason Player of the Year.
“You don’t want to make it mano-a-mano but at some point, you have to take pride in playing defense,” Starks said. “It was a tough night for me defensively because they run a lot of screens, and a couple times I got matched up with Siva and Smith.”
Starks, of course, had plenty of help with the ball-handling efforts and in preventing the Cardinals’ quickness from exploiting the Hoyas’ longer lineup. Thompson did his part by outfitting the Hoyas with a smaller lineup featuring Starks, Smith-Rivera, and sophomore Jabril Trawick. During these stretches, he even ran some offensive plays through Porter in the middle.
“Louisville is an outstanding defensive team and it’s hard to get into a flow against them,” Thompson said. “They’re one of those teams where you can’t think about plays, you just have to play. So we were small, but I wanted to just get five guys out there that can move, snap the ball and keep playing.”
The Hoyas are back in action on Wednesday, playing Seton Hall in the second game of a three-game homestand. They will likely jump back into the national rankings in time for the 7 p.m. tipoff at Verizon Center.
With the turnaround, Thompson will not allow his team to rest on its laurels for long. But he did acknowledge the significance of the win, especially after a trying period for his Hoyas.
“Let’s get this straight, that’s a hell of a team,” he said. “That’s one of the best teams in the country…this is a very good win against an outstanding team.”
Photo: John Delgado-McCollum