The 68-53 final score does not adequately tell the story of what was a tough opening test for the fifth-ranked Georgetown basketball team.
There were few mysteries for Tony Shaver and the rest of the coaching staff of the College of William and Mary when it came to Georgetown’s most potent offensive weapon.
“I told the team that if [Roy] Hibbert beats us, that’s my fault, not theirs,” he said after the game.
The Tribe came out in a zone defense to deny the 7’2” senior the ball, and managed to hold him to two field goals in the first half.
“It’s difficult in the beginning of the year,” Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said of the defense. “You spend so much time in the off season working on man-to-man stuff, because that’s what you expect to get throughout the season … so we have to work on [the zone], we aren’t sharp with anything yet.”
With the post game neutralized, the Hoyas were forced to exchange outside jump-shots with the Tribe. Senior point-guard Jonathan Wallace and junior guard Jesse Sapp converted four three-pointers and combined for 19 points in the first half, but Tribe senior Kisielius Laimis tallied 16 first-half points to keep the underdogs in the game.
The perimeter shootout should have been the perfect coming out party for freshmen guards Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, but the prolific high-school shooters struggled to find their collegiate touch. Freeman’s one second-half field goal provided the only two bench points of the game for the Hoyas.
“[The freshmen] did okay,” Thompson said. “Chris [Wright] hasn’t had much practice time, and Austin [Freeman] missed some shots that he’s going to make.”
The Tribe shot almost 42% from behind the arc in the first half to Georgetown’s 35%, but the Hoyas’ five offensive rebounds gave them the second chance opportunities they needed to maintain a slim 35-30 halftime lead.
Georgetown took the floor in the second half determined to get the ball to the big man. On the very first play, Sapp snuck an entry pass into Hibbert who easily turned on his defender for the lay-up. After a Tribe turnover, Sapp went right back to Hibbert, but the errant pass was intercepted for one of Georgetown’s 14 turnovers. The Hoyas still had not figured out how to attack the paint against the zone defense, and several more turnovers followed as the Georgetown guards tried to force the ball into Hibbert.
With just under ten minutes to play, William & Mary sophomore guard David Schneider hit one of his four threes to cut the lead to 47-45. At several points in the first half, Thompson showed a small line-up with three guards on the court, but at the nine-minute mark he switched to a taller, longer line-up consisting of sophomore forward Vernon Macklin, senior forward Patrick Ewing Jr., and sophomore forward DaJuan Summers to contest the three-point shot.
“We can be versatile this year, we can go big, small, fast, or long,” Thompson said.
The revamped defense held William & Mary to 19% from three in the second half.
“They are a great defensive ball club, physically they just wear you out,” Shaver said.
As the Tribe cooled down, the Georgetown offense began to click. With 6:38 left on the clock the Hoyas had their most impressive possession of the game, stringing six passes together on the perimeter before slipping a bounce pass into Hibbert for the easy lay-up. The worn down William & Mary defense began to open up, and Sapp and Wallace were able to find Hibbert at will. The seven-footer made almost every touch count, dropping seven of nine in the half and nine of 11 in the game for a team-high 23 points.
“Coach likes to emphasize wearing people down one position at a time,” Hibbert said. “Things started working well in the post, so I demonstrated that I’m willing to go down there and score.”
Hibbert’s effectiveness sparked a late offensive surge that the Tribe could not recover from.
“It helps us as a hole,” Wallace said of the center’s performance. “When Roy gets the ball down-low, defenses collapse and it opens things up for us on the outside.”
The season-opening victory is the third in Thompson’s four years at Georgetown. The Hoyas’s next opponent will be the Wolverines of Michigan. The Wolverines will be a tougher test, but the Saturday opener may provide some insight into how Georgetown will fair against former West Virginia coach John Beilein’s team.
“They run similar offenses and defenses,” Wallace said of the upcoming match-up. “This was a preview of what to expect next week.”