MEN'S BASKETBALL | Porter Jr. Leads Way in MU Redemption
Published: Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 15, 2013 01:02
After 28 minutes of play, the referees finally listened to the incensed crowd at Verizon Center and assessed a technical foul on Marquette Head Coach Buzz Williams for arguing a call. Sophomore forward Otto Porter Jr. calmly sunk both free throws and scored on the next possession, and his team went on to halt a Golden Eagles rally en route to a 63-55 Georgetown victory Monday night.
The technical foul seemed like a definite turning point in the game, but don’t tell that to Head Coach John Thompson III.
“I can’t sit here and say I felt the momentum change,” Thompson III said.
Neither team shot particularly well, and in a game that saw 33 total turnovers and 41 total fouls, there was no single moment that turned the tide. Instead, Thompson felt the Hoyas pulled this one out like they’ve done so many times this year: possession by possession.
“This is the Big East — it’s a rough, physical game. It always has been, [and] it always will be,” Thompson III said. “You’ve just got to keep playing.”
Marquette jumped out to an early lead, utilizing size underneath to bully Georgetown’s post players own low. Senior center Chris Otule scored eight of Marquette’s first 11 points to put the Golden Eagles on top by five. But the Hoyas’ big men toughened up in the post and gave the offense a chance to go ahead.
“Our big guys got a rhythm of what they were trying to do,” Thompson III said. “So we didn’t necessarily make a tactical change — we just did a better job of guarding them.”
With Marquette up 11-6, Georgetown responded with back-to-back threes from junior guard Markel Starks and a fast-break layup from freshman guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera to take the lead.
“It’s time to win,” Starks said of his mindset at that moment. “You’ve got to make plays.”
And in the end, the Blue and Gray made enough plays to win Monday.
In typical fashion, defense was the key last night for the Hoyas, who held the Golden Eagles to just 23 first-half points. Georgetown uncharacteristically relied on forcing turnovers instead of contesting shots — Marquette committed 12 first-half turnovers, which led to 15 Georgetown points, almost half of the Hoyas’ point total in that time span — but allowed Marquette to shoot almost 50 percent from the field.
Even so, Georgetown’s tenacity was enough to elicit praise from Williams, even if that tenacity primarily feasted off of sloppy play from his team.
“They are really good defensively, and the numbers back that up,” Williams said. “But some of our turnovers were absolutely unforced.”
Marquette came out strong in the second half, using an 11-4 run to close within a possession. But Williams’ technical foul led to four Georgetown points before Marquette could touch the ball again, and the Golden Eagles wouldn’t threaten again.
Despite leading throughout the second half, Thompson III resisted experimenting with lineups the way he has in the past. Only seven players saw action — the five starters plus Smith-Rivera and sophomore forward Moses Ayegba, who only played for eight minutes.
Instead, Georgetown relied on its veterans and tough play to pull through. Junior forward Nate Lubick, coming off of his worst performance of the year against Rutgers, chipped in 10 points, eight of which came at the free-throw line, in addition to his four rebounds and four assists. Sophomore forward Mikael Hopkins, who stepped up with 14 points when Lubick was in foul trouble against the Scarlet Knights on Saturday, followed up with another solid showing against Marquette.
“Mikael got nine rebounds,” Thompson III pointed out. “He did a good job in that regard, but he’s supposed to do a good job in that regard. … I think if you want to talk about Mikael, the one thing you should talk about more than anything else is his defensive job, trying to make it hard for [Marquette junior forward Davante] Garner to get the ball where he wanted it.”
But both times, the Hoyas were put in a difficult spot — first when Georgetown was down early in the first half and then again when Marquette made a run in the second half — they turned to Starks and Porter Jr., who were the game’s top two scorers with 16 and 21 points, respectively.
“Otto is one of the best players in the country — he’s consistently shown that,” Thompson said. “He’s one of the few players in the country who takes pride in and excels in every aspect of the game. … And all of that is under the umbrella of how to put us in the best position to win.”
Much of the Hoyas’ recent success stems from Porter Jr.’s aggressiveness, as the Missouri native has scored more than 15 points in eight of the team’s past nine games and notched double-digit figures in rebounding in three of those games. Still, on a national scale, Porter Jr.’s rise to stardom has gone largely unnoticed, perhaps because he prioritizes well-roundedness over flashiness.
Asked if he minds flying under the radar, the sophomore simply replied, “No, not at all.”