It’s one of the talking heads’ favorite concepts, tossed around on any one of ESPN’s 100 shows to justify everything from a football team’s upset win (“They were just the tougher squad”) to a coach’s firing. (“He doesn’t instill toughness in his players!”)
It’s the perfect catch-all buzzword for any unexpected result, any unexplainable phenomenon in modern sports media. Any athlete that comes out on the wrong side of the argument too many times — think Chris Bosh or Jay Cutler — is subjected to endless ridicule that’s nearly impossible to shake.

But where do we get these ideas? What happens in the course of a game that allows the media to make a sweeping assertion about a player’s character?
The short answer is that it’s complicated — and usually more hyperbole than fact. But every once in a while, we see a play or sequence that exemplifies everyone’s favorite intangible.

Like yesterday’s Georgetown game.

The Hoyas have an undeniable tendency to make big plays at the right times — and not just any big plays, but the kind that require outsmarting and outworking the opponent rather than relying on simple talent to turn the tides of tight contests.

So while Georgetown obviously owes much of its success to Otto Porter Jr.’s talent and John Thompson III’s coaching, the Hoyas wouldn’t have won many of their games without the timely toughness of PorterJr. and nearly all his teammates.

During yesterday’s game, for example, Cincinnati had stormed back from a 16-point deficit to take a 33-31 lead in the opening minutes of the second half. The Blue and Gray looked on the verge of collapse, and an all-too-familiar feeling settled into the stomach of every Georgetown fan.

But Nate Lubick got the ball on the left block, backed down his man and spun baseline for a jump hook that stopped the bleeding and set the stage for a game-saving Georgetown run. That’s a tough play.

Later, Jabril Trawick would judge the angle of a rebound perfectly, rip the ball from the reach of a tallerBearcat and immediately push the ball up the court. That’s a tough play. Porter Jr. missed a jumper on the other end, but freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera — all six feet, three inches of him — would sneak in for a difficult tip-in. That’s a tough play.

Aaron Bowen’s flying tip-in against Louisville. Porter Jr.’s game-winning layup at UConn. MosesAyegba’s perfectly timed block of Rakeem Christmas at Syracuse. Those are the kinds of plays that Georgetown has been able to count on all season, and they’re the reasons why the Blue and Gray are in contention for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament after starting the season unranked.

Whether this will be enough to beat out teams as talented as Duke and Indiana for the national title remains to be seen. But when you hear the big-headed basketball commentators singing the praises of the Hoyas’ “toughness” this March, don’t dismiss it as the usual hot air.

While they might be late to the party, they won’t be wrong: Whatever “toughness” is, Georgetown has it.

PAT CURRAN is a junior in the College and former sports editor of The Hoya.

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