COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Georgetown’s run of early NCAA exits is over. The Hoyas are hanging around this March.
Jason Clark scored 21 points, Otto Porter added 16 and Georgetown’s ruthless defense bottled up Belmont’s shooters in a 74-59 NCAA tournament win Friday, advancing the Hoyas after first-game knockouts the past two years.
Henry Sims had 15 points for the third-seeded Hoyas (24-8), who shot 62 percent from the floor and will play No. 11 seed North Carolina State in the third round of the Midwest Regional.
Georgetown’s previous two seasons ended with embarrassing opening-round losses to Virginia Commonwealth and Ohio, scrappy mid-majors who made the big, bad Hoyas look silly. This time around, Georgetown played like the Georgetown of old with inside muscle and a swarming defense that choked the life out of the Bruins.
Belmont (27-8) had its 14-game winning streak stopped and fell to 0-5 in NCAA appearances. The Bruins were going to have to shoot well to pull off the upset, but went just 10 of 27 on 3-pointers.
Blake Jenkins scored 17 to lead Belmont, but senior Kerron Johnson, the Bruins’ leading scorer, had just 4 — 10 below his average.
Leading by nine at half, Georgetown never let Belmont get closer than six in the second half.
Sims controlled the inside and Clark handled things outside for the Hoyas, who shot 70 percent (16 of 23) following the break and looked like a team capable of making a deep tourney run.
After Belmont got within 58-49 on Drew Hanlen’s 3-pointer with just under six minutes left, Georgetown went on a 13-2 run to end any doubt and Belmont’s season.
Sims, hampered by foul trouble in the first half, scored on a three-point play, Hollis Thompson dropped a 3 from the corner and Porter completed a three-point play during the spurt. In the final minutes, Georgetown’s fans celebrated as coach John Thompson III paced the sideline the way his father, who was working the radio broadcast, once did.
Sims spent the majority of the first half sitting on Georgetown’s bench, a towel hanging from his neck and two fouls dangling over his head.
The Hoyas led 18-12 when Sims picked up his second personal and had to come out. But even without its 6-foot-10 senior to clog the middle of the lane or rebound underneath, Georgetown extended its lead to 23-12 on a three-point play by Porter. Later, Porter’s short, soft jumper put the Hoyas ahead 34-22 and Belmont was in some serious trouble.
Hanlen, though, hit a 3-pointer and Saunders made a pair of free throws to pull the Bruins within 36-27 at halftime.
With country music Hall of Famer Vince Gill sitting in the front row of Belmont’s cheering section, the Bruins came in hoping to send the Hoyas home singing a sad, familiar ballad.
Georgetown isn’t going anywhere but to third round.
For a change.
The Hoyas knew they’d have to guard the perimeter to stop the Bruins’ relentless 3-point attack.
Georgetown’s players always had one eye in the paint and the other on the arc, making sure not to stray too far. Even if they had to cheat a little, the Hoyas weren’t going to allow any of the Bruins to have an uncontested look at the rim. There were possessions when two Hoyas flew at the ball, hands held high to alter shots.
Belmont went 6 of 15 on 3s in the first half, highly respectable considering how tough it was at times to even get a shot off.
After coach Thompson was forced to take out Sims, Georgetown borrowed a page from Big East brethren Syracuse and switched to a 2-3 zone. With Thompson and his assistants pointing and waving instructions, the Hoyas worked their tails off on defense.
At halftime, the elder Thompson was asked about his son’s team and the Hoyas’ defense.
“So far, so good,” he said.
True enough. The Hoyas aren’t going home yet.
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