MEN'S BASKETBALL | Loss Ends Impressive Season
Published: Monday, March 19, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, March 20, 2012 00:03
Senior Jason Clark’s attempt at a game-tying three sailed past the rim, the buzzer sounded and, just like that, it was all over. A season that began with low expectations came to a disappointing end in Columbus at the hands of North Carolina State, as the Hoyas were dominated on the glass and struggled to get the ball into the paint. Despite the loss, it is a testament to how far the team has come since that unexpectedly violent preseason trip to China that a second-round NCAA tournament loss is considered a disappointment.
It was an inglorious way for Clark and classmate Henry Sims’ Georgetown careers to end. Both seniors played a huge role in Friday’s rout of Belmont — the first NCAA tournament win of their time on the Hilltop — as Clark poured in 21 points on just 12 shots while Sims scored 15 points and handed out five assists. Against the Wolfpack, though, the team’s elder statesmen struggled. Clark looked set to continue his hot shooting from the win over the Bruins after he hit an early three, but he never quite found the range and finished just 3-of-11 from the field. Sims was limited by foul trouble, playing just four first-half minutes after committing two offensive fouls in the first 3:40 of the game. He hit a big layup with under a minute left and followed that up with two clutch free throws to draw the Hoyas within one, but those four points were all he managed on the game before fouling out with 10 seconds left.
Junior forward Hollis Thompson was the star of the game for the Hoyas, who would’ve been dead in the water without his 23 points. Thompson, who drew some criticism for a lackluster six-point performance against Belmont, broke the 20-point mark for the first time since Jan. 15th. Georgetown’s 9-2 run in the second half that cut NC State’s lead to four was entirely at the hand of Thompson, who single-handedly brought the Hoyas back into the game.
The real turning point of the game, though, occurred toward the end of the first half. With about 5 minutes to play, freshman forward Greg Whittington made a layup to extend Georgetown’s lead to 10, and it looked like the rout might be on. But the Wolfpack battled back with a 28-7 run that was marked by the Hoyas’ settling for a lot of long jumpers and struggling to control the defensive glass. Unlike in tournaments past, though, the Blue and Gray battled back to make the game close.
The Hoyas were able to cut the lead to three on several occasions but couldn’t seem to put together enough defensive stops and offensive makes to get over the hump. The game appeared to be all but over when NC State’s sophomore point guard Lorenzo Brown — one possession after hitting an improbable 10-foot jumper over the backboard — converted two free throws to give the Wolfpack a seven-point lead with 1:11 left, but Thompson splashed in a long, contested three to give the Hoyas hope. Sims scored his only four points of the game in rapid succession as the Wolfpack struggled to ice the game from the free-throw line, and suddenly the Blue and Gray had life. Down just two points with 35 seconds left after junior forward Scott Wood — a 92 percent shooter from the line — had missed his second free throw of the game, the Hoyas had a chance to take the game’s last shot. Georgetown fans couldn’t have been blamed for having flashbacks to Hollis Thompson’s early-season heroics against Alabama and Marquette.
But those memories were fleeting. Thompson didn’t touch the ball on that possession, as freshman forward Otto Porter took a contested midrange jumper with 10 seconds left on the clock that badly missed. Sims fouled out in the aftermath of that shot, and although Clark would get a decent look at a game-tying three as time ran out, the Hoyas’ best chance to win or tie the game had gone by the boards.
Despite the loss — Georgetown’s fourth to a double-digit seed in its last four NCAA tournament appearances — the season has to be viewed as an unqualified success. Head Coach John Thompson III took a young, inexperienced squad with question marks at three starting spots and molded it into a team that could challenge the country’s elite. On a more personal level, Jason Clark and Henry Sims leave the Hilltop having finally won a tournament game after a season where few thought the Hoyas would crack the national rankings, let alone earn a three-seed in the NCAA tournament. The pain was visible on Thompson III and his players’ faces after the game was over, and it’s a pain that won’t go away anytime soon. But the team shattered all realistic expectations this year, and the future is as bright as ever.