“That got us going,” Coach John Thompson III said after the Hoyas’ third straight victory.
Whittington figures to play a crucial role again Saturday when the Hoyas (16-3, 6-2 Big East) travel to Pittsburgh to face the struggling Panthers (12-9, 1-7). Pitt opened the season ranked 10th in the Associated Press poll but dropped out four weeks ago during a shocking 0-7 start to conference play.
Point Guard Tray Woodall, however, returned from injury two games ago and the Panthers are coming off their first league win, Wednesday’s 86-74 triumph over Providence.
“They’re a different team with Woodall back,” Thompson said, adding the Panthers also have Big East preseason player of the year Ashton Gibbs “and a lot of good players around him.”
Despite Pittsburgh’s poor record, the Hoyas anticipate a typically physical afternoon at Petersen Events Center. They also hope to see Whittington continue the surge of strong play he’s shown at both ends of the floor during the past three games, a stretch in which he’s averaged 6.7 points per game and 5.6 rebounds.
A late bloomer in high school, Whittington chose Georgetown over Maryland after averaging 23.5 points per game as a senior at Oakland Mills High in Columbia. In his first two-plus months as a Hoya, though, his biggest impact has come at the defensive end.
At 6 feet 8, Whittington uses his length to deflect passes and force opponents to alter their shots. He’s also quick enough to cover guards yet big enough to be effective in the paint.
With the Hoyas protecting a two-point lead as time wound down against Rutgers, Whittington was assigned to guard Myles Mack, the Scarlet Knights’ second-best scorer.
Whittington smothered Mack, ensuring he was not open as Eli Carter threw up a desperation jumper at the buzzer.
“I get a lot of enjoyment out of [defense], actually,” said Whittington, the eighth All-Met Player of the Year to suit up for Georgetown.
Said senior guard Jason Clark: “He’s one of the best defenders on this team, if not the best. When he comes into a tight game, he usually is guarding one of the best players on the other team. I just tell him to lock ’em up. He takes pride in that.”
Among the next steps in Whittington’s progression is to add weight to his sinewy frame. Listed at 205 pounds, he could benefit from an additional 10 to 15 pounds of muscle to withstand the rigors of Big East.
The Hoyas also are waiting for the moment when Whittington is comfortable enough to combine his natural offensive instincts with an already stout defensive game. While he has yet to score more than eight points, there’s evidence that his confidence at the offensive end is on the rise. In the past three games, Whittington has averaged 7.3 field goal attempts. In the previous 10, he averaged only 1.8 shots.
“All that is going to come in time,” Whittington said, flashing a grin.
Thompson added: “Before it’s all said and done, he’s going to be a scorer. He is a scorer. He’s still in the first part of his freshman year. You will see that Greg Whittington is a scorer as well as a pretty good defender.”
Hoyas notes: Thompson said junior swingman Hollis Thompson, who was hampered Saturday by a sore thigh muscle, missed two practice this week but is expected to be “fine.”
Thompson also said he did not have an update on freshman Tyler Adams, who has been sidelined since early December while undergoing tests on his heart.