Big East tournament: Georgetown advances with 64-52 win over Pittsburgh

March 7, 2012

Otto Porter was a surprise omission from the Big East’s all-rookie team earlier this week. After the Georgetown freshman’s performance Wednesday, a few of the conference’s coaches might regret voting seven players ahead of him.

Porter scored a season-high 20 points, including 14 of his team’s 16 during a crucial second-half span, to lift the 13th-ranked Hoyas to a 64-52 victory over Pittsburgh in the second round of the Big East tournament.

“My teammates knew that I was in the zone,” Porter said of the scintillating stretch that put the Hoyas in command. “I just tried to keep my intensity up.”

Senior Henry Sims added 20 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and handed out five assists as the Hoyas avenged their loss to the Panthers on Jan. 28 in Pittsburgh. In Sims’s previous three conference tournament appearances, the senior center amassed a total of five points and nine rebounds.

“I had that moment over the summer,” Sims said, asked when he realized this would be his last go-round. “But when it came to this tournament, last year we had an early exit, and me and [fellow senior Jason Clark], we didn’t want that to happen this year. I did my best to make sure it didn’t.”

The fifth-seeded Hoyas (23-7) will face fourth-seeded Cincinnati in Thursday’s quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden. The Bearcats prevailed in the team’s only meeting this season, 68-64, on Jan. 9 in Washington.

On Wednesday, Pittsburgh (17-16) scored the first six points after halftime to pare Georgetown’s lead to 31-29.

That, however, is as close Porter and Sims would allow Ashton Gibbs and the Panthers to get.

Georgetown switched from man-to-man back to its 2-3 zone defense.

On offense, Greg Whittington sank a three-pointer and, about a minute later, Porter made one. As Porter sprinted back on defense, he let out an emphatic “Ooooh” after putting the Hoyas ahead 37-29.

Porter then finished the job.

The 6-foot-8 swingman scored all but two of the Hoyas’ next 16 points as the lead swelled to 50-39. In that sequence, Porter made a three-pointer, three free throws, two backdoor layups, a tip-in and a mid-range jumper to chants of “Otto-matic” from the student section.

“He hit a couple of shots in the middle of that zone, then he got to feeling good,” Coach John Thompson III said. “And his teammates did a good job of finding him.”

Porter’s offensive outburst also bailed out Clark and Hollis Thompson, the Hoyas’ leading and second-leading scorers. They were the focal point of the Pittsburgh defense, and as a result, combined for 10 points on 1-for-10 shooting from the floor.

“We’ve said all year that every guy in this room can have a big night because every guy in this room can score the basketball,” Clark said of getting a lift from Porter and Sims. “It’s nice when my shots aren’t falling.”

Sims added: “Tonight it happened to be me and Otto. Tomorrow night, it could be Jason and Hollis.”

In the teams’ regular season meeting, Pittsburgh’s front court of Nasir Robinson, Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson combined to provide 68 percent of the Panthers’ scoring in a 72-60 victory. This time, Robinson, Zanna and Patterson combined to score 16 points.

“That was a major focus — protecting the paint because last time they had layups and dunks on almost all of their points,” Sims said. “So we made sure we held that to a minimum today.”

Georgetown also outrebounded the Panthers 36-25.

“They just outworked us,” Robinson said after praising the Hoyas’ zone defense. “They were more physical than us.”

Gibbs was Pittsburgh’s leading scorer, tallying 14 points. At one point in the first half, the Big East preseason player of the year threatened to take over the game, scoring nine consecutive points to help the Panthers seize a 19-13 lead.

But Georgetown closed out the half on a 16-2 run and, as a result, took a 31-23 lead into halftime. Sims had 11 points and eight rebounds in the opening 20 minutes.

Asked jokingly who was wearing No. 14 for the Hoyas, Thompson cracked about Sims: “The same guy that’s going to show up tomorrow. We’re pretty good when we get that kind of effort out of him.”

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