There are few spots worse for a basketball team than trailing on the road in overtime. An energized home crowd and momentum going the wrong way can take down even the best squads.

For that reason, it wasn’t so much sophomore forward Otto Porter Jr.’s 21 points in the second half and overtime or freshman guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera’s gritty late game trey that made Wednesday’s victory so impressive. It was No. 7 Georgetown’s collective mental fortitude and quiet confidence.

Porter has finally gotten his fair share of publicity the last few weeks, although the national media seems more focused on calling the likely Big East player of the year “unassuming” than in analyzing how well he works with the Blue and Gray’s supporting cast.

Junior guard Markel Starks has finally found his stroke and tightened up his ball-handling, which Smith-Rivera complements with an uncanny ability to make tough buckets.

And as sophomore center Mikael Hopkins has continued to play erratically, both junior forward NateLubick and sophomore guard Jabril Trawick have taken on bigger roles for the Hoyas, ones that show up less on the stat sheet and more in the quality of their minutes, especially on defense.

Prevailing despite falling behind is something that differentiates good teams from great ones, which makes Wednesday’s victory perhaps the most important in a winning streak that has now stretched to 10 games.

If there’s a game that would be comparable to the way Head Coach John Thompson III’s squad performed in Storrs, it might be Georgetown’s 2007 win over North Carolina in the NCAA East Regional final.

While the Huskies never fell apart like the Tar Heels did that year, the Hoyas showed the kind of poise that it takes to survive tough rivals and hostile crowds in the NCAA tournament, including the ability to understand that while your mistakes might send you to overtime, your skills can bail you out.

Thompson III has established himself among the nation’s best regular season coaches, continuously knitting together rosters that appear simply average into one of the Big East’s best teams, year in and year out.

Winning in the tournament, however, takes an altogether different skill set, which is the reason last year’s Final Four, for instance, was made up of four coaches who had all been there before.

Having tasted the tourney in Atlanta in 2007, is Thompson ready to make a return trip to the Georgia Dome this season?

Without a Roy Hibbert or Greg Monroe, Georgetown’s performance around the rim is a potential Achilles’ heel, but a bona fide star in Porter and solid inside-outside play means the skill set is in place.

Still, earning the privilege to cut down the nets is as much about mentality as footwork and as much about confident attitudes as pressure defense. In that department, these Hoyas have what it takes.

Just as I-95 between Washington and Atlanta is a long drive, there is a lot more basketball to play and many more obstacles along the way. But for Georgetown, the pieces are falling into place, and postseason success might not be out of reach.

 

Evan Hollander is a junior in the School of Foreign Service and former sports editor of The Hoya.

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