NEW YORK – A sign in the Madison Square Garden stands reading “Simsanity” proved accurate Wednesday afternoon, as senior center Henry Sims led Georgetown (23-7) to a 64-52 Big East tournament win over Pittsburgh (17-16).
“When it came to this tournament, you know, last year we had an early exit,” Sims said. “I did my best to make sure that didn’t happen today.”
The 6-foot-10 center — who had never averaged more than three points per game in his first three seasons wearing the Blue and Gray — added to an already successful senior campaign by lighting up the Panthers for 20 points, 13 rebounds and five assists. The Hoyas earned their 50th all-time win in the Big East tournament and advanced to an afternoon matchup tomorrow with fourth-seeded Cincinnati.
While the Panthers managed to shut down senior guard Jason Clark and junior forward Hollis Thompson, the Hoyas’ two leading scorers, Pitt simply had no answer for Sims. The Baltimore native outsized any Panther on the court and was repeatedly sent to the charity stripe.
“I think [Sims] has been pretty good most of the year. I thought he was very good today in terms of his effectiveness on the block, his effectiveness as a passer,” Head Coach John Thompson III said.
Sims combined with freshman forwards Otto Porter and Greg Whittington to give the Hoyas afrontcourt force that completely dominated the game. Porter finished with 20 points and six rebounds, while Whittington added 11 points, six rebounds and two assists.
“I just tried to step up for my team when it comes down to playing hard,” Porter said.
Porter and Sims have been the Hoyas biggest surprises — and, at times, biggest assets — in the surprising 2011-12 season. The 6-foot-8 freshman from Missouri made his presence felt early in the second half, scoring 14 of the Hoyas’ 16 points in one stretch. He hit a corner three off an inbounds play to start the run, and capped it with a layup off a pretty pass from none other than Sims.
“I think it had come to a stretch where [Sims] had a little bit of success and they were starting to pay attention to him, and I think they were doubling a little bit off of Otto,” Thompson III said.
It was a fantastic finish to a game that started off rocky for the Hoyas, as senior guard Ashton Gibbs helped Pittsburgh open a 19-13 lead midway through the first half. But Georgetown clamped down and ended the half on an 18-4 run, taking a 31-23 lead into the halftime break.
“We didn’t do what we needed to do as far as rebounding,” Pittsburgh Head Coach Jamie Dixon said. “I really thought their zone hurt us more than I anticipated.”
The Hoyas’ defense, ranked among the top three in the conference, held the Panthers to their fifth-lowest point total of the season, forcing ten turnovers and limiting Pitt to a 24 percent shooting mark from long range. The defensive effort was much improved from the teams’ last meeting, when Pitt picked apart Georgetown for a 72-60 win in late January.
Whittington, Sims and Porter, meanwhile, dominated nearly every statistical category, combining to shoot 17-of-26 from the field and grabbing 25 of the Hoyas’ 36 rebounds. Clark and Thompson were limited to a combined 1-of-10 shooting for 10 points despite playing over 30 minutes apiece.
“They understand on any given night on this team anybody can step up. Tonight it happened to be me and Otto,” Sims said. “Tomorrow night it could be Jason and Hollis.”
Tipoff against the Bearcats is set for 2 p.m. tomorrow. Cincinnati defeated the Hoyas at Verizon Center in January, 68-64. It will be the first meeting between the two teams in the Big East tournament.