Upstart Hoyas ready for tussle in Tuscaloosa

December 1, 2011

The Georgetown men’s basketball team entered this season surrounded by doubts about the quality of their squad. Could the Hoyas fill the void left by free-scoring guards Chris Wright and Austin Freeman? Did they have a capable enough inside presence to succeed Julian Vaughn as the rock in the middle at Big Man U? To this point, the Hoyas have answered these concerns with an emphatic “yes.”

As the team prepped for the Maui Invitational tournament last week, many believed they would be lucky to avoid embarrassment against the stacked tournament field. But after battling then-No. 14 Kansas for 40 nerve-racking minutes and trouncing host Chaminade, the Hoyas outlasted number-eight Memphis in overtime to clinch a 2-1 record in Hawaii. Subsequently, the Hoyas catapulted themselves into the national conversation, as the experts were forced to rethink their initial dismissal of the Blue and Grey.

Memories of the three departed starters quickly faded as senior guard Jason Clark inspired Georgetown’s perimeter attack. Clark averaged 23 points per game in Maui, including a 26-point effort in the Memphis win. Yet Head Coach John Thompson III believes it is Clark’s team-oriented mindset that has allowed him to play such an important role for the Hoyas this season.

“Jason Clark is an honest player,” said Thompson III. “He’s going to give you an honest effort every day. He also understands he doesn’t have to do everything … that’s what ‘team’ is all about.”

Clark needed his team Monday night. The guard struggled against IUPUI in the Verizon Center, shooting just 1-7 from the field. Despite ultimately winning 81-58, Georgetown led by just one point at halftime and trailed for most of the first 20 minutes.

That sort of performance simply won’t cut it, with Georgetown’s toughest non-conference game set for tonight against No. 12 Alabama. The Hoyas are fully aware that they can’t afford another sluggish start.

“We didn’t come out strong in the first half, but we had a lot of energy coming out in the second half,” Clark said. “If we come out with the same energy we did in the second half, I think we’ll be able to beat this team.”

The matchup against Alabama will also be the Hoyas’ first legitimate road game, as the team has played all of its games thus far at home or in Maui, a neutral site. The Crimson Tide presents a particularly daunting challenge in this department, having won their last 24 games in Tuscaloosa, one of the longest home winning streaks in the nation. Clark and the rest of the Hoyas know full well what to expect.

“I think Maui geared us up for it. Tuscaloosa is going to be crazy, and us having a young team, we have to understand to communicate even more. It going to be loud in there, and we have to stick together.”

The environment down South is not the only point of concern for the Hoyas. Alabama boasts one of the best defenses in the nation, ranked in the top ten in both opponents’ points per game and field goal percentage.

“They’re a terrific defensive team,” Coach Thompson said. “If you look at the games they’ve played so far this year, they make good offensive teams look bad. You don’t get a good shot against them.”

The Crimson Tide’s lauded defense presents an interesting matchup for the Hoyas, who have been averaging 82 points per game, placing them among the nation’s top-scoring teams. That output is not merely from Clark’s emergence as a go-to scorer, as both senior Henry Sims and junior Hollis Thompson have made remarkable strides in their offensive production this season. Sims has revealed a versatile post game, demonstrating the ability to will himself to the basket and hit mid-range jumpers. Meanwhile, Thompson is shooting a scorching 54.5 percent from three while averaging 14.7 points per game, second only to Clark’s 17 points clip.

However, Alabama presents more than just a blanketing defense. In senior forward JaMychal Green and junior forward Tony Mitchell, the Tide has two elite scorers with a plethora of big-game experience. Green, a preseason all-SEC first team honoree whom Coach Thompson describes as “a beast down there on the blocks,” is a rare talent able to score from anywhere on the court.

Green’s presence will be felt, and the crowd will do everything they can to throw Georgetown off. Yet despite what is up against them, the Hoyas remain confident they can build on their impressive start.

“We’re a really good team,” Starks said. “We’re a good defensive team, but we’re a great offensive team as well. The more and more we play together, it’s going to really come together.”

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