WASHINGTON, D.C. – Somewhere along the way Georgetown’s Senior Night turned into a freshman coming out party.
Freshman Greg Whittington scored a career-high 15 points to lead three Hoyas in double-figures as eleventh-ranked Georgetown dismantled No. 20 Notre Dame 59-41 in front of 14,514 at the Verizon Center Monday night.
Of course on a team that shares the ball so well on offense and plays together as a stingy unit on defense, it should come as no surprise that Whittington, who helped blow the game open with an eight-point second-half spurt that included two three-pointers, would give all of the credit to one of his senior teammates on such a special night.
“It was because of [Henry] Sims,” Whittington, last year’s Washington Post All-Met Player of the Year, said when asked about the key to his breakout game.
Henry Sims, with 12 points, six rebounds, and a game-high five assists, continued to stake his claim as the Big East’s Most Improved Player while fellow senior Jason Clark finished his last home game with 13 points and six rebounds.
But it was their defensive energy that made perhaps the biggest difference as Georgetown (22-6, 12-5) snapped a three-game losing streak to the Irish and, in the process, held Notre Dame to their lowest point total in a Big East game since joining the conference in 1995.
“I think Jason sent the tone right from the beginning,” Coach John Thompson III said.
“I thought Henry did a good job defending [Jack] Cooley because he makes you work. So I thought those two, on Senior Night, got us going with their defense.”
Cooley, who averages 12.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, was held to just two points on 1-of-5 shooting and zero rebounds. The junior forward had recorded a double-double in five of his last six games.
“Henry’s going to sleep well tonight,” Coach Thompson III said. “You guard [Cooley], you’re tired.”
Notre Dame (20-10, 12-5) has now lost back-to-back road games after winning nine straight overall including handing then-No. 1 Syracuse its only loss of the season.
Following the worst loss of the season to Seton Hall last week in which the defense was non-existent, the Hoyas have gotten back to what makes them one of the top teams in the country
“If we defend and we rebound, we will score enough points to win,” Coach Thompson III said about what his team needs to focus on as tournament play approaches.
Georgetown limited Villanova to just 28 percent shooting in their previous outing and against Notre Dame they continued their smothering defense by holding the Irish to 33 percent from the field including a dismal 3-of-17 (18 percent) from three-point range.
“These last two games have been, probably defensively at least, the best games we have played,” Sims said about what the Hoyas have accomplished since their loss against Seton Hall.
With Notre Dame trailing 39-29 after an Eric Atkins lay-up with 12:34 remaining the Hoyas would hold the Irish to just three more field goals the rest of the game. Atkins and teammate Scott Martin led the way for the Irish with nine points each.
For the second straight game Georgetown went with Otto Porter in the starting line-up over Markel Starks and the freshman responded with six points, ten rebounds, and three assists.
But unlike the win over Villanova, Starks, who has started 25 of the 28 games this season, came off the bench early in the first-half and played 24 minutes. The sophomore point guard finished with four points and two assists.
Coach Thompson III, who doesn’t always wear his emotions on his sleeve, was able to embrace both Clark and Sims with big bear hugs as they came off their home court one last time. Afterwards he talked a bit about that moment.
“Four years goes by really fast and these guys, in a couple of months will graduate,” Coach Thompson III said.
“Both of these guys, I think, are going to be playing basketball for a very long time but this is the last time they get a chance to do it in this building wearing ‘Georgetown’”.
This year’s senior class left the Verizon Center on a good note by going 15-1 at home this season, including 8-1 in Big East play. It is the second best home record in the John Thompson III era (eight seasons).
Georgetown is now in third-place in the conference standings but the Hoyas sill have work to do in order to clinch the double-bye in next week’s Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.
A win over No. 8 Marquette would ensure that the Hoyas don’t play until next Thursday’s quarterfinals but there are a host of other scenarios that might put them in that position before that game even takes place.
Up Next: Georgetown finished the regular season on the road against Marquette on Saturday at 2pm. The Hoyas needed a dramatic 17-point second-half comeback in order to knock off the Golden Eagles 73-70 on Jan 4 in just the third conference game of the season.
Hoyas Notes: John Thompson III won his 250th career game on Monday night. For the season Georgetown held six of their nine Big East opponents to under 50 points at the Verizon Center. The Hoyas won all six of those games.