Georgetown played by far its best game of the young season in Brooklyn Monday night, besting a top-15 UCLA squad and advancing to Tuesday night's Legends Classic finals against #1 Indiana. There's plenty of credit to go around, but easy headlines aside, Markel Starks may deserve the most credit, tallying a career-high 23 points, 3 steals, and 3 assists. Sophomore forward Otto Porter, returning after missing the bulk of two games with a light concussion, also was terrific, posting 18 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 5 blocks. The win was a valuable confidence-builder for a young Hoya squad coming off of a couple of shaky wins.
Georgetown came storming out of the gates, quickly building a 10-2 lead by making their first four shots (taken by four different Hoyas): a Porter jumper was followed by a baby hook and free throw by Nate Lubick (11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists), then a beautiful back-cut by Greg Whittington (13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks) preceded a Starks 3.
But UCLA is no slouch, and quickly closed the gap, tying the game at 14. After the opening spurt, Georgetown's offense struggled, while the UCLA attack picked up steam. In the half-court, twin posts Travis and David Wear converted pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop opportunities, while the UCLA defense converted careless Georgetown turnovers into easy transition points.
With Georgetown trailing 24-20, and the game slipping away, JTIII made a key tactical change, switching the Hoyas into a 2-3 zone. For the remaining 6-plus minutes of the half, the Bruins managed just 5 points, even counting two baskets off of busted plays. Meanwhile, Georgetown closed the gap then passed UCLA by forcing turnovers that led to easy transition baskets, and by relentlessly feeding the ball inside, whether to Porter and Whittington on easy post-ups, or to Starks on the well-timed cuts.
In all, 21 of the Hoyas' 31 first-half points came in the point. The maestro of this offensive resurgence was Lubick who, much maligned for his disappointing sophomore season, looks more confident and stronger through three games this year. In all, the Hoyas overcame 10 first-half turnovers to manage a two-point lead into the break.
Georgetown wouldn't trail again, thanks largely to a 12-0 run to start the second half. On defense, the zone continued to disorient the Bruins, who didn't score for the first two and a half minutes after the break. On offense, Georgetown was at its most fluid, finding open shooters with smooth ball movement. On a baseline out-of-bounds play, Lubick flawlessly fed Porter for a tip-in. Whittington then canned consecutive open 3s off of feeds from Starks and Hopkins. While UCLA star Shabazz Muhammad stole all the damn ESPN coverage, Starks stole his lazy pass, generating an easy fast-break lay-up, then fed Hopkins for a transition dunk to put the Hoyas up 14.
Again, the Bruins didn't really go away. UCLA freshman Jordan Adams, who entered Monday night averaging 24 points per game, was particularly pesky, scoring 11 points in an extended Bruin run that cut the lead to 4 points with 10 minutes to pay.
But just when things were getting dire, Georgetown's offense--its liability for much of its lackluster wins over Duquesne and Liberty--put the game away by converting four straight possessions. Starks hit a 3 then a crafty floater to push the lead to 6, after which Lubick fed Jabril Trawick (7 points, 2 steals, 1 beast of a block/jump-ball), who finished through contact with his left hand. And, a sign of the ball bouncing the Hoyas' way, Porter canned a 3 with the shot clock dwindling, echoing Whittington's 3-by-necessity before intermission. UCLA never again got closer than 7, and the Hoyas eventually dribbled the clock out to seal their first win.
There's so much good to take from tonight's game. A team that slogged through long stretches of its first two wins found offensive and defensive rhythms against UCLA. The 2-3 zone that stifled so many opponents last year took form again. On offense, Lubick and Porter each made beautiful feeds to cutting teammates, while Starks pushed the pace in transition. Even if some of the specifics probably aren't sustainable (7 of 14 from 3 on the night), the broader strokes fit: Porter looked like the star we expected him to be, Lubick and Whittington the emerging forces we hopes they would become, and Starks the scorer we had almost forgotten existed.
As sweet as Monday's win was, Georgetown has little time to savor it: #1 Indiana awaits Tuesday night, the Hoyas' first regular-season tussle with a top-ranked team since, you guessed it, Jan. 21, 2006, when a scrappy, under-the-radar Hoya squad knocked off Duke. A man can hope, right?