Georgetown put a bow on its nearly perfect non-conference slate Thursday night, building a twenty-point lead before withstanding a late Memphis run to prevail 70-59. Jason Clark scored 18 points to lead four Hoyas in double figures, while also grabbing five rebounds and swiping five steals. The win wasn’t the prettiest of the season: the Hoyas didn’t shoot well, making just 43 percent of its shots from the floor, and was uncharacteristically careless with the ball, committing fifteen turnovers. But, much like its win over this same Memphis team in Maui one month ago, Georgetown won in spite of its imperfections.
So what led to the victory? Let’s dig deeper:
- The Big Three. An overused nickname, to be sure, but it still applies to Clark, Hollis Thopmson (17 points, 9 rebounds), and Henry Sims (12 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks), who led the charge for Georgetown. The three upperclassmen scored the bulk of the Hoyas’ points while also coming up with the most timely plays. A pair of Thompson free throws, a Sims lay-in, an improbable Clark tip-in, and an emphatic Sims dunk on a gorgeous fast break closed the first half on an 8-2 Hoya run, rebuilding a lead that had shrunk to a single point back up to seven at intermission. Sims certainly didn’t have his best game this year, managing just 3 of 12 from the field and a handful of turnovers, but Thompson and Clark’s accuracy made up the difference.
- The Fourth Wheel. For much of the first half, the Hoyas’ offense relied to a large part on Markel Starks. The sophomore guard had 14 points, nine in the first half, including a pair of threes to kick off the Hoyas’ scoring. Starks has emerged as the true fourth option on this year’s Georgetown squad, averaging just shy of 10 points per game while shooting better than 40 percent from three. (As a side note, the fact that we’re even counting a fourth option is an implicit tip of the cap to Henry Sims, who is receiving just praise for his senior year transformation.)
- The Big Run. After Starks’ early scoring, it was time for the upperclassmen to take over. Counting the aforementioned pre-half spurt, the Hoyas rattled off 23 points to the Tigers’ 5 in the 6-plus minutes bridging the half, strengthening a one-point first-half advantage into a twenty-point second-half blowout. Clark and Thompson each poured in seven during that stretch, with Sims putting in four. While Memphis suffered from both bad shot selection and poor ball handling, Georgetown’s offensive surge was borne of a burst of energy that led to several extra possessions. The Hoyas suddenly were feeling it, making their cuts a little bit harder, muscling for the extra offensive rebound (Georgetown grabbed 7 of its 13 during this stretch), and ratcheting up defensive pressure to force turnovers. Their increased intensity was perhaps best seen after Sims’ perfectly timed half-closing dunk, when the senior center led out a roar to the student section behind the hoop he had just rattled.
- Hanging on. A team as talented as Memphis wouldn’t stay down forever, and no sooner had Thompson’s lay-up inflated the lead to 20 than the Tigers started chipping away. Sophomore guard Chris Crawford (17 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds) and freshman forward Adonis Thomas (9 points) led the Tigers on a 20-7 run that narrowed the game to 61-54 with just four minutes remaining. But Memphis’s early foul trouble haunted it late, as the Hoyas put the game away at the free-throw line.
In an uncharacteristically light non-conference slate, Georgetown played just four games against quality opponents and won three, beating Memphis twice and Alabama on the road. A Hoya squad facing myriad issues coming into the season, including succession, leadership, scoring punch, and experience, hardly could ask for more than a 10-1 record with three resume victories. While wins never hurt, much of the joy of this young season has been in witnessing the evolution of players we doubted barely a month ago. Jason Clark is no longer merely a deferential supporting piece, but has become an exemplary and vocal leader. Hollis Thompson has evolved from bench spark to versatile, often primary, option, while also doing the dirty work (four offensive rebounds on Thursday night) that he seemed to avoid in years past. Henry Sims, an unreliable spot player in years past, is now an interior stalwart. And Markel Starks, for all of last year’s caution, is a confident and assertive sophomore. Finally, there’s the freshman class, bringing defense and energy in relief and hope for the future.
None of us know what Big East play will bring for the Hoyas. But there’s plenty of reason for hope. Optimism about a young, unproven squad is a somewhat new feeling for many of us. There’s a group of fans, of which I am a part, who are too young to clearly remember, or whose rooting tastes were not fully evolved at the time of, Reggie and the Miracles. Much of that group is still old enough to have suffered the disappointment of the Esherick years, the euphoria of the early JTIII era, and the mixed emotions of recent seasons. For us, there are few points of comparison to this team. It seems likely to surpass the ’04-’05 team to which it’s frequently compared, JTIII’s first, highlighted by the arrival of Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert, and Jon Wallace, who would eventually lead Georgetown to a Final Four two years later. But it’s a bit early to punch your tickets for the Elite Eight, which the ’87 Reggie Williams-led squad reached. What’s more, the Hoyas next begin play against a conference with few sure things and much fluidity. Without historical precedent, and with so much uncertainty ahead, the best I can say is continue to enjoy the ride. Hoya Saxa.