A 6-foot-10 imposing figure, John Thompson Jr. does not blend into crowds all that easily. But during his son’s reign over Georgetown’s basketball program, the legendary Thompson has done just that, disappearing in the back-right corner of the press room.
Except on this day, there was a little too much emotion seeping out of Thompson. For the man who essentially started the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry by declaring the Orange’s former home, Manley Field House, closed in 1980, this final iteration of the team’s Big East rivalry meant a little too much.
And so after his son’s Hoyas dominated the Orange for 40 minutes—with a 61-39 final—he had to interject at the postgame press conference.
“Kiss Syracuse goodbye,” he said with a smile.
“Oh, excuse me,” he added after the laughter died down.
In the storied history of the rivalry, no team had held Jim Boeheim’s Orange to fewer than 40 points. That is, until John Thompson III took a page out of his father’s book and rode his vaunted Georgetown defense to a historic performance—holding Syracuse to just 39 points two weeks after holding them to 46 in a victory at the Carrier Dome.
On that day, Hoya sophomore Otto Porter Jr. burst on the national scene and dominated the Orange with a 33-point performance in front of 35,012 orange-clad fans.
The Verizon Center crowd did their best to counter that effort on Saturday, filing in to the tune of 20,972 people—good for the largest turnout for an indoor sporting event in DC metro area history.
And after Porter’s near-triple double and cold-blooded shooting performances from guards Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, that crowd left satisfied, with Georgetown students rushing the Verizon Center court and delaying the Big East regular season championship trophy presentation.
For Thompson—the son—no ending to a regular season has been sweeter. “I’ve been a head coach 13 years, and this is my sixth regular season championship,” he said. “And right now, this one feels nicer than any of the rest of them.”
With the victory, the Hoyas clinched a share of the Big East Championship along with Marquette and Louisville. Georgetown also garnered a double-bye and a number one seed in the Big East Tournament.
The first half was sloppy with many turnovers as defense dominated. Near halftime, though, the run of play swung in Georgetown’s favor. With all the attention on sophomore forward Porter, junior Starks and freshman Smith-Rivera combined to score 19 of Georgetown’s 25 points in the half. Starks tallied Georgetown’s first 8 points on a three-pointer, a lay-in, and another three-pointer. Smith-Rivera then scored 8 straight points with two threes and a lay-in.
“You cannot let those guys shoot the ball,” Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim said of Starks and Smith-Rivera. “They are very good shooters and we did not do a good job with them.”
The Orange matched the Hoyas until 53 seconds left in the half. Boeheim conceded that the Orange essentially gave in on stopping Porter, as he did not believe a player he deemed the national player of the year could be contained. The star proved him right, as he set Smith-Rivera up for a three-pointer and converted two layups to extend the lead to 7 by halftime.
Georgetown would not look back as the Hoyas continued to extend their lead in the second half. Two Porter free throws, a Starks’ three-pointer, and junior forward Nate Lubick’s layup gave the Hoyas a 32-18 advantage.
The game marked the latest act of coaching mastery from Thompson’s book. He fully expected extra attention on Porter and worked around him, centering the offense around his dangerous weapon in the middle to break Syracuse’s vaunted two-three zone.
“Last night for the first time this year, I slept well,” he said. “We were prepared. Our guys understood what it meant, and we came to play.”
Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas tried to bring Syracuse back into the game with a 7-0 run. But again, Porter asserted himself and sealed the game for the Hoyas.. Georgetown answered the run to make the score 43-27 with an 11-2 streak that included two jumpers by Porter.
The Blue and Gray will either play Cincinnati or Providence in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament on Thursday. The game is at noon and will be broadcast on ESPN.
While Thompson and company are satisfied with the win, it’s not close to the end goal for the year. Saturday, for the Hoyas, was one step in a journey that’s just beginning.
“This season is not over,” Thompson said. “We hope to go to New York and play well and also play well in the NCAA Tournament. Told the guys last year after the season, at the beginning of this school year, and when we were 0-2 in BIG EAST, that I expected us to win the regular season. They listened.”
File Photo: Andres Rengifo/Georgetown Voice (Mar. 2, 2013, vs. Rutgers)