The night began with Jason Clark and Henry Sims soaking in an appreciative ovation from the crowd. It ended even better — with the Georgetown seniors celebrating a crucial victory in their final home game.
Clark scored 13 points and was a dominant force on defense, and Sims had 12 points to go along with a game-high five assists Monday at Verizon Center, where the No. 11 Hoyas throttled No. 20 Notre Dame, 59-41. The Fighting Irish’s point total was their lowest in a Big East game and equaled the lowest ever under Coach Mike Brey.
“They really defended us,” Brey said. “That might be the best defensive team we’ve played against this season.”
The victory puts Georgetown (22-6, 12-5 Big East) in good position to seek a top four seed — and the accompanying double-bye into the quarterfinals — in next month’s Big East tournament. The Hoyas close out the regular season Saturday at No. 8 Marquette.
For the second straight game, it all began at the defensive end for Georgetown, which limited Notre Dame (20-10, 12-5) to 33.3 percent shooting and did not allow a single visitor to reach double figures in scoring. On Saturday, the Hoyas held Villanova to 28 percent shooting.
Clark directed the Hoyas’ defensive effort along the perimeter, where the Fighting Irish were harassed into missing all but three of their 17 three-point attempts. Sims, meantime, anchored the interior defense, limiting 6-foot-9, 248-pound Jack Cooley to two points, on 1-for-5 shooting, and no rebounds. Cooley entered the game averaging 12.4 points and 9.3 rebounds.
“I thought those two, on Senior Night, got us going with their defense,” Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. “Henry is going to sleep well tonight. You guard [Cooley], you’re tired.”
Clark added: “This is definitely how we can play defense, this is what we’ve been striving for. We’ve had some games in the past where we’ve played defense like this, and if we play defense like this in every single game we can be a very good team.”
As impressive as the seniors were on their special night, they were outdone offensively by a teammate: Greg Whittington. The freshman forward scored a career-high 15 points. But that’s not the number that jumped out at Thompson.
“Yeah, well he forgot that we still need him to rebound,” the coach cracked. “You look at this little stat sheet here, it says, ‘Whittington, one rebound.’ So he fell in love with his shooting today and forgot to do everything else.”
Point guard Markel Starks did not start for the second consecutive game, but he entered the game 5 minutes 35 seconds in. The sophomore finished with four points and two assists in 22 minutes.
Thompson has repeatedly declined to discuss the reason for not starting Starks, though it likely stems from a verbal altercation the two had following the defeat at Seton Hall.
“I just decided to play him and he was fine,” Thompson said.
Georgetown seized control of the game in the first half thanks to Sims, who, during one stretch, had a hand in 10 consecutive points. As a result, the Hoyas opened a 28-18 lead at intermission and was only challenged once in the second half.
“That’s what we need him to do, finding the balance between when it’s his turn to score and when it’s time to get his teammates a shot,” Thompson said of Sims, who has registered five or more assists 10 times this season. “And for most of the year, with a few glaring exceptions, he’s been very good at finding that balance.”
Notre Dame’s Scott Martin hit a jumper 1:16 into the second half to trim the Fighting Irish’s deficit to 28-21. They would get no closer.
Clark scored six points, including two on a determined drive to the hoop, over the next four minutes to give the Hoyas a 37-25 lead.
That Clark and Sims had the biggest impact on the game provided a fitting conclusion to their final appearance on F Street. The two were honored during a pregame ceremony that included highlights on the video board, and the seats in the student section had Clark and Oh Henry chocolate bars left on them.
“Four years goes by really fast,” Thompson said. “And in a couple of months they’re going to graduate. Both of these guys, I think, are going to be playing basketball for a very long time. But this is the last time they get to do it in this building wearing Georgetown [colors.] It was a special day for them.”