What a difference a week makes.
After a shellacking at Seton Hall last Tuesday, Georgetown is back on track after swamping Villanova Saturday and then trouncing Notre Dame Monday night.
As they have for much of this surprising season, the Hoyas relied on their seniors — center Henry Sims and guard Jason Clark — to key much of their offense. But they also showed that the freshmen provide important fuel for the Blue and Gray, as first-year forwards Otto Porter and Greg Whittington turned in sublime performances.
Whittington has seen more action since the benching of sophomore guard Markel Starks, who appeared to exchange words with Head Coach John Thompson III at the end of the Seton Hall game. The freshman truly stepped up in his 24 minutes against Notre Dame, racking up 15 points on 5-of-6 shooting, including a perfect 3-of-3 from behind the arc.
While “maturity” has been a word more commonly associated with Porter, who had 10 rebounds and six points despite struggling with foul trouble, Whittington showed that the Blue and Gray’s freshmen class is as deep as it is talented.
However, Thompson III pointed out that Whittington still had room for improvement.
“He forgot that we still need him to rebound,” Thompson III said. “He fell in love with his shooting today and forgot everything else.”
But this being senior night, it was Sims and Clark who stole the show. Sims played a stifling defense that limited Notre Dame junior forward Jack Cooley to two points and no rebounds.
“I thought Henry did a good job defending Cooley,” Thompson III said. “He makes you work as hard to defend him as anyone. Henry is going to sleep well tonight. If you guard [Cooley], you’re tired.”
While only credited with one block on the final stat sheet, the senior altered many of the Fighting Irish’s attempts, much to the delight of the Verizon Center crowd.
And while Sims’ shooting was a tad disappointing at only 4-for-10 from the floor, his classmate made up for it. Clark shot a scorching 71 percent from the field, and his three-pointer to open the game was a harbinger of things to come. The 6-foot-2 guard also had six rebounds, including five on the defensive end, which helped limit Notre Dame’s opportunities.
“The guys were very good. I think Jason set the tone right from the beginning and was consistent with that throughout the game,” Thompson III said. ” I thought [Henry and Jason] set the tone on Senior Night.”
Junior forward Hollis Thompson, who has been a key contributor for the Blue and Gray all season, had a relatively quiet night, scoring only five points. He did, however, pull down six boards, five of which were defensive, as part of the stifling defense that left the Irish flat-footed.
Thompson III, whose postgame comments could often be described as reticent, offered praise for his team’s defensive effort.
“I thought our defense was very good today,” Thompson III said. “You play a team like that, where they have so many good shooters… to only allow them to take 17 threes is a big deal. Forget the fact that they only made three.”
Notre Dame Head Coach and Big East coach of the year frontrunner Mike Brey also singled out the defense as the difference maker in the game.
“I give a lot of credit to Georgetown and their defense. That may be the best defensive team we’ve played against this season,” he said.
That defense will have to show up again on Saturday when the Hoyas travel to Milwaukee, Wisc. to take on Marquette. The Golden Eagles have the 25th-best scoring offense in the nation, averaging 76.9 points per game.
Georgetown must win in to secure a double-bye into the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, but the team is focused more on this weekend’s game at the Bradley Center than any matchups at Madison Square Garden.
“My answer’s the same. … Forget all that. We have to win our next game. We have to prepare for our next game,” Thompson III said. “If you start thinking about double-byes, single-byes, seedings, this that and the other, you forget to prepare for the next game.”
That mentality, and a bit more octane on the offensive end, could make the last game of the season one of the year’s best.
Tipoff is set for 2 p.m. in Milwaukee, Wisc.