Deep breaths, blank stares, and slumped shoulders for Georgetown players and fans alike today. North Carolina State, the #11 seed in the Midwest Region, stole a heartbreaker, winning 66-63 over #3 seed Georgetown in a game so emotionally exhausting that it's hard to do anything other than walk aimlessly into oncoming traffic. The Wolfpack took a 30-9 run from 5:08 left in the first half through 13:00 in the second half and never looked back. The Wolfpack won the game by doing what they do best - balanced scoring and offensive rebounding. Four NC State players combined for 54 points, and didn't have one guy score more than 14 points. They grabbed 15 offensive rebounds, which made the difference in the aforementioned run that the Hoyas could never recover from.
For Georgetown, their offensive effort was the exact opposite. It was the Hollis Thompson show and everyone else was a bit player. Thompson, for the second time in two years, did all he could in Georgetown's last game of the season, scoring 23 huge points and keeping Georgetown in the game when it looked like it was going to get out of hand. For seniors Jason Clark and Henry Sims, their college careers ended in a whimper. Sims was hampered by foul trouble throughout, picking up two early fouls for the second consecutive game, and was never able to get into a rhythm. Clark took the last shot of the season for the Hoyas, missing a 30 foot three pointer that would have tied the game.
Sadness prevails after The Jump.As we've seen all season with this resilient group, they did not go quietly after NC State went on that 30-9 run that would have put lesser teams into the ground. No, this team fought their way back on the shoulders of Hollis Thompson, cutting the deficit to three points numerous times in the last 10 minutes of the game. Unfortunately, the Hoyas never got closer than down two points with 63-61 with 35 seconds left in the game. Out of a timeout with 24 seconds left, Georgetown pounded the ball inside to Henry Sims, who kicked it out to super freshman Otto Porter for an open three pointer. Instead of taking the open three pointer, Porter took two dribbles and forced up a contested 18 footer that bounced short off the front rim. NC State gave the Hoyas one more desperation look after going 1-2 from the free throw line, but Clark was unable to hit a 30 footer to send the game to overtime.
College basketball is a brutal sport for a fan. The structure of the NCAA Tournament, with only one game deciding your fate at any given time lends itself to incredible highs and previously unforeseen lows. Georgetown's loss today encapsulated all of those moments in a neatly packaged 40 minute game. There were the highs of an early 10 point lead at 25-15 when everything was clicking and it seemed like we'd cruise to a Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007. Then came that sinking feeling that nothing would ever go right again during the 30-9 NC State run. Then another high as Hollis Thompson led us from the doldrums, knocking down three pointer after three pointer and cutting the lead to 3 points with 10 minutes to go. Then again, the lows as NC State kept plugging away, never allowing Georgetown to get the lead back and pushing towards a 61-54 advantage with just over a minute ago. But as the Hoyas often do, there was another glimmer of hope, clawing their way back to a 2 point deficit with the ball in their hands for the last shot. Yet, in the end, we fell short. Seven months until next season for Georgetown fans to think about what could have been.
Yet, for Sims and Clark (and potentially Thompson), there isn't another seven months in a Georgetown uniform. For how badly we feel today, one can't even begin to imagine what it feels like to be them. What if Sims' runner in the lane with 35 seconds went in? What if Clark was able to somehow sink that 30 footer? What if Thompson hit just one more three pointer? None of them will ever have another opportunity in a Georgetown uniform to right those wrongs. And, assuming that Thompson declares for the NBA Draft as expected, that just plain stinks. I'll be down about this game until Wednesday or so, but then the rest of my life will continue unharmed. For these guys, they made a commitment to Georgetown to make basketball their lives. Every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears went into being a member of the Georgetown basketball team for the past four years, and one game's results shouldn't change how they are viewed. I am going to remember Sims' senior year as one of the most compelling and rewarding seasons from a senior in recent memory, not as the guy who couldn't stay on the floor in the NC State game. I am going to remember Clark's senior year as the guy who led a group of 10 underclassmen to places not even the biggest homer could have expected, not as the guy who missed the last shot of the season. If this is Hollis' last game, I will remember him as the guy who sank two ridiculous three pointers to lead us to victories over Alabama and Marquette, not as the guy who couldn't hit that one more three pointer to give us the lead today.
I am sure many people will be discussing Porter's decision to shoot a contested 18 footer with 10 seconds on the game clock, and it is understandable to do so. But remember this, without Otto Porter's sublime, beyond-his-years season, we are not even close to in the position of being a #3 seed. Porter, along with fellow freshmen Greg Whittington, Jabril Trawick, Mikael Hopkins, Aaron Bowen, and Tyler Adams, have this program in the best shape it has been in for a long while. Markel Starks and Nate Lubick were both excellent today as well. Georgetown returns all of those players, plus Moses Ayegba, while bringing in D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Brandon Bolden, and potentially Nerlens Noel next year. The future is so bright that it's hard to even see.
After the sting of this loss wears off, players, coaches, and fans will look back on this season with great pride. Did anyone on October 1 expect a loss in the round of 32 to be this painful? Absolutely not. Did anyone on October 1 expect Henry Sims to potentially play his way into the NBA? You would have been institutionalized. Did anyone on October 1 think that Otto Porter and Greg Whittington would carry the load for much of February and March? Not even close.
Yet, at the end of the day, inexperience in late game situations was the ultimate decider for this year's Georgetown team. We saw a lack of execution in tight spots against Kansas, Alabama (albeit we won but coughed up a massive lead), Cincinnati, Syracuse, Cincinnati again, and finally NC State. In our heart of hearts, I think we all knew that this team was a year or two away, but the maturity of our freshmen made us believe otherwise. Today, that was not the case. I want Otto Porter on my side every single time, but he made a rookie mistake in the biggest situation of the season today. It's okay, he will learn from it, and he will turn it into a positive down the road. John Thompson III did a masterful job leading this team to places we never expected, but we also learned that he is probably a bit too trusting in his players to make the right decisions at the end of games. When we had experienced guys like Jeff Green, Jonathan Wallace, Patrick Ewing Jr., and Roy Hibbert on the floor, it was easier to give the ball to one of them and trust them to make the right basketball move. With a team this young, that wasn't the case. Once again, it's okay. JT3 will learn from it and adapt as well.
The Hoyas have absolutely nothing to hang their heads about this season. The nature of athletics is that only one time wins the last game of the season, that's just the way it goes. From China to Columbus, it's been a fantastic season. To Jason Clark, Henry Sims, and Hollis Thompson, it's been a hell of a run and thank you for the memories. To the rest of the Hoyas, use this defeat as motivation and come back stronger next year. There are three universal truths in life as a Georgetown fan - hope springs eternal, Syracuse sucks, and avoid March 18th to play tournament games.
Hoya Saxa. Now please let me go curl up in the fetal position and suck my thumb for the rest of the week.