Hoyas set for rematch with Friars in Providence

February 16, 2012

The last time the Georgetown men’s basketball team saw Providence, the lowly Friars nearly ruined their New Year’s Eve, holding the Hoyas to a season-low 49 points and remaining within a score of victory until the final minute of the game.

The Hoyas eventually won the game, 49-40, and, a month and a half later, Georgetown (19-5, 9-4 Big East) has regained the ninth spot in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll just in time for this Saturday’s rematch with Providence (13-13, 2-11 Big East).

The two teams have headed in vastly different directions since their first meeting. Despite a few bumps in the road, the Hoyas have continued their early-season success, and are vying for a top-four finish in the conference. The Friars, on the other hand, are in dead last. The team faded after a strong start under first-year head coach Ed Cooley.

If Georgetown’s recent play is any guide, Saturday’s game should not be nearly as close as the first Providence tilt. Over their last four games (three double-digit victories and a narrow overtime loss at No. 2 Syracuse), the Hoyas have shown that they are a more complete team than they had been earlier in the season, with the bottom part of the rotation showing that they too have what it takes to win games.

In last Saturday’s 71-61 victory over St. John’s, another rematch from earlier in the season, the Red Storm keyed in on Georgetown’s top two scorers, senior Jason Clark and junior Hollis Thompson, and held them both below their averages.

“I think they spent a portion of that game box-and-one on Hollis,” Head Coach John Thompson III said after the win. “Both Hollis and Jason they really just face-guarded, shadowed them everywhere they went. I thought that both of them did a pretty good job of not forcing anything—a lot of times when that happens you start to force things. But we also had other people that were able to step up and make plays.”

Among them was freshman Greg Whittington, who led the Hoyas with a career-high 12 points. Whittington has been the seventh man off the bench for most of the season, and the team has counted on him more for his hustle and defense than his offensive abilities. But on Saturday he showed flashes of the player who averaged 23.5 points per game as a senior in high school.

If Whittington has fixed the inconsistent jumper that’s plagued him so far in college, he adds another dangerous facet to a well-balanced Hoya offense that had five players in double figures against St. John’s. More often than not, however, Georgetown’s defense has been what’s won them games. The Hoyas have the 17th-best scoring defense in the country, allowing just 58.9 points per game. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed since the last time they faced Providence—in that game, Georgetown allowed only 40 points.

Sophomore Nate Lubick emerged as a consistent defensive presence. The forward has struggled at times this season, but he pulled down eight rebounds and blocked a career-high four shots. At the other end, he was perfect from the field with seven points and dished out five assists.

Still, with so many players capable of putting up a big performance, there is always a risk that one ball may not be enough to go around. If Providence is hoping that will save them from another loss, however, they should think again. The Hoyas’ coach is confident his players won’t succumb to that pitfall.

“You’re programmed ever since you were four or five years old that, regardless of how poorly you’re shooting, when a big shot comes up, I’m going to shoot it,” Thompson said. “A lot of times you have five guys on the court that, when you have a big possession, are ready just to chuck up a shot. And the built-in excuse is, ‘Well, I’m a good player so I’m going to take that shot.’ I think that this group has gotten pretty good at understanding that we have a lot of different people that can make that shot.”

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