It took four years, but Georgetown is once again advancing in the NCAA Tournament.
Jason Clark ensured that he wouldn’t graduate without an NCAA victory, scoring 21 points to lead the Hoyas to a 74-59 victory over Belmont.
After being upset by VCU and Ohio in the past two seasons, the third-seeded Hoyas took care of business in Columbus on Friday afternoon. Georgetown took control early—Belmont never led after the 16:22 mark of the first half—and never looked back, with Clark contributing 10 of the Hoyas’ first 14 points.
“It was definitely a sense of urgency, not just for me but the whole team,” the senior guard said. “ We’ve known what we’ve done in the past, so it was a big thing for us to get this win today.”
Clark worked both inside and out, hitting three three-pointers while also getting to the basket. He finished 9-for-12 from the field.
The Hoyas built an early lead thanks to their methodical offense and the same 2-3 zone defense that has troubled teams all season. Georgetown’s length stopped Belmont from getting the ball inside, forcing them to shoot over the zone.
Belmont, the nation’s fourth most prolific three-point shooting team, lived up to its reputation, attempting 27 treys, a full half of their shot attempts. In the early going the balance was even more skewed, with 12 of their first 15 shot attempts coming from beyond the arc. They connected on just 10 for the game.
“We didn’t want them to get off that many,” head coach John Thompson III said. “We had a good defensive effort, but it’s got to be a lot better if we want to have success on Sunday.”
The defense was still good enough to give Georgetown a 36-27 lead at halftime, a margin that was even more impressive considering got very little from two major contributors, Henry Sims and Hollis Thompson. Sims started strong, scoring four quick points, but he went to the bench with two fouls at the under-12 timeout and didn’t check back in.
Thompson, on the other hand, simply struggled to get going. He was just 1-for-6 from the field in the first half and missed all three of his three-point attempts. In the second half he didn’t do much more, finishing with six points, although the Hoyas didn’t need anything from him.
The Hoyas were able to weather the lack of production from their second leading scorer thanks to the contributions of a group of players playing in their first NCAA game. Freshman Otto Porter led the way, continuing where he left off in the Big East Tournament with a 16 point, eight rebound performance. His classmate Greg Whittington played 30 minutes, third most on the team, scoring seven points, including five in a row to break open a 15 point lead midway through the second half. Even seldom used forward Mikael Hopkins was effective while filling in for Sims and a similarly foul-troubled Nate Lubick late in the first half.
“My coaches and teammates prepared me for this game, and I was ready,” Whittington said.
The Bears would get as close as six in the second half, but the Hoyas seemingly always had an answer on the offensive end when Belmont would try to strike back. Back on the court after halftime, Sims was the closer for the Georgetown down the stretch. The senior big man repeatedly attacked the basket, finishing with 15 points, and when he didn’t, he was dishing out five assists to his teammates.
There’s not much time for Georgetown to savor its first postseason victory since 2008. The Hoyas move on to face 11-seed North Carolina State on Sunday, who defeated San Diego State in an earlier game Friday.
“We’ve got to keep pushing,” Clark said. “We’ve got a lot more games to play.”