It wasn't easy, but Georgetown won its 11th straight game over Rutgers Saturday night, 64-51, riding yet another incredible all-around performance from Otto Porter. The Scarlet Knights grabbed, pushed, and occasionally shot their way into a close game, but the Hoyas pulled away down the stretch thanks to a sterling 28 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 steals, and 3 blocks from Porter.
Before we get to the uglier parts of this evening's game, let's dwell for a second on Porter's brilliance. Usually excellent but not necessarily flashy, Porter had at least three eye-popping moments Saturday night. First, Otto made up for a teammate's missed transition lay-in by dunking the miss, bringing the surprisingly large Hoya crowd to its feet. Later, a Rutgers guard appeared to have a clear fast break opportunity, but then Porter put down his head and sprinted, tracking down his opponent like something out of a nature video, and, now fully extended at the hoop, swatted the lay-in. On offense again, Otto found a driving lane obstructed and so made a nifty pass fake then simply extended his right arm under the hoop for a physics-defying reverse lay-in.
We could go on about Porter forever. Despite being far and away the team's primary offensive weapon, he generally doesn't make mistakes, committing just one turnover Saturday night and not committing more than one in any of the past nine games. He's also versatile: the team's best three-point shooter, Otto instead abused the undersized Scarlet Knight guards Saturday night by going to the post early and often. He's even inspired an adulatory twitter account.
You know all that, so let's get into the game a little bit. If I were to sum this game up in two words that did not include Otto Porter, those words would be Mike Rice. Goodness that man is irritating. His teams grab, hold, and hack every cutter through the lane, which means a lot of that activity against Georgetown. All that contact resulted in a lot of called fouls, 29 to be precise, which in turn begat 42 Georgetown free throws, 30 of them made. As JTIII put it succinctly after the game, "We shot a lot of foul shots because we were fouled a lot." Nothing problematic so far, right?
Except, Rice seems flabbergasted whenever any of his players get whistled for anything. Given that his team has fouled at a rate that is above-average nationally and second-highest in the conference, any surprise should be minimal. Given that his teams have finished dead last in the conference in foul rate the two seasons before this one, Rice's continued incomprehension of the whistles suggests that he fundamentally misunderstands the rules of basketball, or something far, far worse.
Okay, now let's really get to the game a bit. It wasn't pretty, and not just because of all the fouls. As in the first game between these teams, Rutgers got some early offense from behind the three-point arc and from the post. Some of the activity was unsustainable, as Dane Miller dropped a prayer 3, and Wally Judge looked unusually motivated, perhaps by being back in his hometown. But sustainable or not, the Hoyas struggled to pull away, and briefly fell behind by four points after intermission.
Then Georgetown turned up the pace a bit, buckling down on Rutgers on defense and spreading the wealth on offense. On defense, the Hoyas used the same formula that worked against Rutgers the first time around, shutting down the lane and holding the Scarlet Knights to just 37.5 percent shooting from two. The Hoyas' communication, switching, and collective awareness have been marvelous to watch throughout this streak, and Saturday night was no different.
On offense, Georgetown heated up thanks to a little bit of help from everyone. Nate Lubick converted an ugly if effective post opportunity, then a drive by D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera found daylight at the rim. Porter buried a step back jumper and an ensuing free-throw, then Markel Starks hit a patented step-in long two-pointer.
Even so, the Hoyas' lead stood at just two points with barely 12 minutes remaining in the game. That's when Porter really caught fire, putting home the aforementioned dunk-back as the first two of twelve Hoya points in seven possessions, all but two of which were by Otto himself. The bulk of those points came from the line, where Porter found himself after posting up undersized Rutgers defenders who were left with no choice but to foul. With the Scarlet Knight defense now completely attuned to Porter's every move, Smith-Rivera, having already canned a three, found himself suddenly neglected on the perimeter, and calmly drained a triple to make the lead nine.
Georgetown gradually pulled away from there, and got the win it needed to stay in sole possession of first place in the conference. Marquette and Louisville each won important games over Notre Dame and Syracuse, respectively, to keep pace, just a game behind the Hoyas apiece. Still, the day's results ensured Georgetown a top-three finish in the Big East standings, its best finish since 2008, when it won the regular season conference crown for the second straight year. This particular win, of course, was the Hoyas' 11th straight, equaling their best conference run under JTIII, in 2007.
You know we're in heady times when the points of reference are those two years, the apex to this point of the JTIII era, despite the latter year's early tournament exit. Six weeks ago, those comparisons might have seemed particularly delusional, after a dismal loss at South Florida. Tonight once again proved that not every game will be easy, nor should it be. No other team has won more than six straight in the Big East this year, so a run of this length should include a ho-hum performance or two.. But each passing win brings with it new converts while convincing the faithful all the more.
A friend once told me that someone famous and successful (Phil Jackson, perhaps) once said, "Once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend." The last two Saturdays can be summarized as follows: Georgetown wins, Syracuse loses, Otto Porter dominates. Will next Saturday make it a trend? We'll see. In the meantime, there's more tough business to attend to: Wednesday's road trip to face a tough Villanova squad. A possible tournament berth hangs in the balance for the Wildcats, a possible conference championship for the Hoyas, the enduring rivalry for both teams. Until then, enjoy this while it lasts.