BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Before Monday night’s tip-off at Barclays Center, all eyes were fixed on the UCLA Bruin about to play in his first college basketball game. By the final buzzer, they were opened to the Georgetown Hoya who had just seen a game through from start to finish for the first time this season.
Sophomore forward Otto Porter Jr. returned from a head injury he sustained Nov. 11 against Duquesne and tallied 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and three steals as Georgetown (3-0) toppled much-hyped freshman guard Shabazz Muhammad and No. 11 UCLA (3-1), 78-70.
“We knew that he was going to play and we were going to keep him contained and watch out for him,” Porter said of Muhammad, who was reinstated Friday by the NCAA following a suspension that lasted three games for his acceptance of impermissible benefits.
But between Porter’s performance and that of junior guard Markel Starks, who scored a career-high 23 points, it was the Bruins who struggled to contain, particularly after halftime. Georgetown had four players in double figures, including sophomore forward Greg Whittington (13 points) and junior forward Nate Lubick (11 points), and the Hoyas shot 60 percent from the field and 5-for-7 from three-point range in the second half.
“In the second half, their offense really, really cut us up,” UCLA Head Coach Ben Howland said. “[Starks] really hurt us. Any time we failed to trail him, he exploited it.”
Opening the second half with a 31-29 lead, Georgetown went on a 12-0 run that started with a Porter jumper, ended with an emphatic dunk from sophomore forward Mikael Hopkins and in between included back-to-back Whittington threes and a Starks layup on the fastbreak. UCLA closed the gap to as few as four later in the half, but the Hoyas led the final 22:43 of the game.
“We saw a few things at halftime and we made some adjustments,” Head Coach John Thompson III said. “We wanted to keep pushing it, keep running, make better decisions and keep them chasing us.”
Starks was also the leader of a dogged defensive effort and recorded four steals. Georgetown consistently forced UCLA into turnovers, taking advantage of its length through zone defense to win the points-off-turnovers battle, 17-12.
“When they went to the zone in the last seven minutes of the first half … we really were tentative, didn’t get it inside,” Howland said. The Bruins were 0-for-7 from beyond the arc in the first half and shot below 40 percent overall for the period.
Though the catalyst of what could be a tone-setting, early season victory for the Hoyas, Porter was his predictably humble self in the aftermath.
“I just let the game come to me, trusted the offense,” he said.
Georgetown now faces a 24-hour turnaround and a matchup against No. 1 Indiana in the championship game of the Progressive Legends Classic Tuesday night. The Hoosiers overcame a halftime deficit to defeat the unranked Georgia Bulldogs, 66-53, earlier Monday evening.
“That’s the nature of tournament play,” Thompson said, explaining that he and his staff had yet to go through preparations with the players for Indiana. “Obviously, they are a very good team, much like the team we played tonight.”
Already a boon, the road trip could become a catapulting force for Georgetown if it is able to take down a second ranked team in as many days — and the preseason favorite, to boot. Tip-off is set for 10 p.m.