Georgetown fans lingered at Verizon Center Saturday afternoon after the Hoyas downed No. 5 Louisville in a 53-51 thriller, as a mixture of disbelief and joy washed over the supporters of a team that defeated two top-25 squads in the span of six days.
Meanwhile, outside the Cardinals’ locker room, disappointment abounded.
Head Coach John Thompson III and his players had the opposite reaction, something that seemed improbable after a loss at South Florida a week before and with sophomore forward Greg Whittington — arguably the team’s best player aside from classmate Otto Porter Jr. — riding the bench indefinitely due to academic issues. Even the most optimistic on the Hilltop had written this team off.
What, then, made Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino joke that he too was considering suspending a player?
“These guys are doing a better job of helping each other,” Thompson III explained after the game. “Particularly at the defensive end.”
Just as it did for Andy Dufresne in “The Shawshank Redemption,” salvation lay within for these Hoyas. From Markel Starks to Nate Lubick — and Aaron Bowen and Moses Ayegba, especially — this team has dug deeper and found more.
That’s not to undersell the degree to which Whittington is missed. Thompson III is absolutely right when he notes that Georgetown, 4-1 without him, might be 5-0 with the forward.
But if Whittington were playing, we wouldn’t have seen the hitherto unheralded junior center Ayegba— whose basketball skills remain a work in progress but whose athleticism is unquestionable — grab 10 rebounds at Notre Dame.
Even more impressive was the forward Bowen, whose backward tip-in set the Phonebooth into a frenzy and helped seal Georgetown’s victory. That was his only basket of the game, although the redshirt sophomore also grabbed three rebounds and played well on defense.
Of course, Ayegba and Bowen are playing more not just because Whittington is riding the bench but because junior center Mikael Hopkins consistently heads there early, bedeviled by foul trouble and butterfingers that led him to three turnovers, two points and two fouls in just 13 minutes on the floor.
That created an opportunity for junior forward Nate Lubick to step into an even bigger role, something that was more apparent in his intense focus on defense and rebounding (especially helping in the post) than in points on the scoreboard.
And although Starks was tied with Porter Jr. to lead all scorers, he also made a tremendous impact on defense, helping — remarkably — to hold Louisville standout Peyton Siva off the board entirely.
“He hit big shots when we needed them, but, probably more importantly, he fought over those ball screens and stayed in front of their guards,” Thompson III said.
For many teams, players who make big shots turn into big shots in the Billy Joel sense — too flashy and too selfish. But with a team of players who just keep digging in, Georgetown has a team ethos that is both exciting to watch and paying dividends.
Evan Hollander is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He is a former sports editor of The Hoya.