After the graduation of longtime stars Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, many questions lingered about the 2011-12 Hoyas. With then-senior guard Jason Clark as the only proven star, many wondered how the Blue and Gray could contend in the mighty Big East.

But a funny thing happened along the way. Aided by the development of then-senior center Henry Sims and the emergence of freshman forward Otto Porter, Georgetown ended up walking away with its first NCAA tournament win since 2008.

Georgetown’s transformation from an inexperienced band of underclassmen to a formidable defensive juggernaut began in earnest over the summer, when the Hoyas embarked on a trip to China and faced off against several Chinese professional teams. The goodwill tour took on a decidedly sour tone, however, when a poorly officiated game against the army-sponsored BayiRockets devolved into an all-out brawl, which was captured on a spectator’s cell phone camera and went viral almost immediately.

While clearly a departure from the trip’s original goal of fostering diplomatic relations between the two countries, the fight may have served another important purpose in toughening up the young team.

“The incident, just the whole notion that you realize quite literally you will have to fight for each other to survive … they embraced that notion,” Head Coach John Thompson III said.

The Blue and Gray returned home safely and began the season as the only NCAA team to have engaged in hand-to-hand combat with members of the People’s Liberation Army.

After two early wins over the decidedly overmatched Savannah State and UNC Greensboro, Georgetown headed for the sunny shores of Maui. The first sign that the Hoyas might defy expectations came when they hung tight with then-No. 14 Kansas, though they ultimately dropped a 67-63 decision.

An overtime upset over then-No. 8 Memphis in the fifth-place game in Hawaii convinced many that the Blue and Gray would have to be taken seriously. After thrashing IUPUI in its stateside return, Georgetown headed south to Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Maybe These Guys Have It:

Georgetown 57, No. 12 Alabama 55

Playing against a top-25 team for the third time in the early season, the Hoyas ran out to an early lead behind a flurry of three-pointers. Even Clark’s 22 points, however, weren’t enough to prevent Alabama from taking a lead in the final minute. Down one, Clark passed to then-junior forward Hollis Thompson on the wing, who drained a long trey with 1.2 seconds left to elevate the Hoyas to their second win over a top-25 team.

Back in the District, Georgetown ran through a trio of overmatched foes — New Jersey Institute of Technology, Howard and American — before winning an unusual rematch with Memphis, 70-59. But the Hoyas faced their toughest task yet when they traveled to Louisville, Ky., to take on the Cardinals in their Big East opener.

Beasts of the Big East:

No. 12 Georgetown 71, No. 4 Louisville 68

Louisville had won 20 straight at the KFC Yum! Center, but Georgetown came out strong — building on a 20-point effort from then-sophomore guard Markel Starks and a double-double from Porter — to take a late lead. Just as in Alabama, however, the Hoyas had to survive a late rally from the hosts. But thanks to an 18-of-24 effort from the charity stripe, the Blue and Gray held off the heavily favored Cards for a statement win to kick off league play.

The Big East season was up and down, which is to be expected in the nation’s toughest conference. The Hoyas beat Providence in an ugly, low-scoring affair and then-No. 20 Marquette in a dramatic comeback before falling to West Virginia and Cincinnati. Georgetown came back to trounce three league cellar dwellers — St. John’s, DePaul and Rutgers — before disappointing in a loss to a rather lackluster Pittsburgh.

Big wins against Connecticut and South Florida followed, but the Blue and Gray faltered in overtime when they traveled to upstate New York to take on rival Syracuse, then ranked No. 2.

Although the team rebounded with victories over St. John’s and Providence, the season’s low point came on Feb. 21: Georgetown fell, 73-55, to perennial doormat Seton Hall, a loss made worse by a sideline spat between Starks and Thompson III.

The Blue and Gray bounced back by thrashing Villanova and carried a 21-6 record into a clash with then-No. 20 Notre Dame on the Blue and Gray’s Senior Night.

Pulling It All Together:

No. 11 Georgetown 59, No. 20 Notre Dame 41

The Irish were among the nation’s deepest teams, but the Hoyas came out undaunted. Making use of the aggressive defense that they showed all season, Georgetown limited Notre Dame to just 33 percent shooting from the field. With Sims holding star Irish center Jack Cooley to just two points, Georgetown rolled to a 59-41 victory, sending off Sims and Clark in style.

The win gave the Blue and Gray hope for a double bye in the Big East tournament, but that was extinguished with an 83-69 loss at then-No. 7 Marquette in the final game of the regular season. TheHoyas nevertheless rolled into Madison Square Garden with a first-round bye and downed Pittsburgh, 64-52, in the second round. Unfortunately for the Blue and Gray, bruising senior center Yancy Gates and a red-hot Cincinnati squad were up next. Georgetown hung tough through two overtimes but ultimately came up short in a 72-70 decision.

 

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