By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Roy Hibbert stood near mid-court in the first half of Georgetown's 72-49 victory at Navy last night, scanning the floor. The Hoyas' center palmed the ball in his large right hand and scratched his head with his left -- one of the few times the 7-foot-2 sophomore looked confused in both teams' season opener.
Hibbert was dominant in 25 minutes, scoring a career-high 20 points and adding seven rebounds and four blocked shots in the first meeting between the teams since January 1978.
"Today was a little bit of what he has to offer," Georgetown's Darrel Owens said of Hibbert.
Guards Corey Johnson and Greg Sprink led the Midshipmen with 14 points apiece.
Georgetown hadn't made the trip to Annapolis since 1974, and the point of this exercise was to play in a hostile environment. Alumni Hall held an enthusiastic crowd of 4,104 (best cheer from the Navy student section: "The ref hates America!" every time a call went against the Midshipmen), but the Hoyas took control early. Georgetown scored the first seven points, and Navy didn't get on the board until nearly four minutes had elapsed.
The Hoyas shot 53.8 percent, but they weren't particularly smooth offensively, which Coach John Thompson III credited to the Midshipmen's defense.
Navy Coach Billy Lange tried to replicate the Hoyas' height and length in practice by putting players on chairs to simulate Georgetown's Jeff Green (13 points) and Brandon Bowman (nine points), 6-foot-9 forwards who can shoot three-pointers. The Midshipmen focused on eliminating back-door passes and taking away the three-point shot; the Hoyas didn't score off a backdoor and they shot 13 three-pointers, making five (Green and Bowman were a combined 3 for 4).
But there was no way they could simulate Hibbert's size and newfound mobility. The Hoyas opened the game by working the ball into Hibbert, who took a pass from Jonathan Wallace (four assists) and dunked. Hibbert scored five of the Hoyas' first seven points; he was easy to find, often matching up against 6-foot-6 Matt Fannin.
"Roy's confidence has improved, his strength has improved, his teammates' confidence in him has improved," Thompson said. "It's one game. Obviously Roy played well today. Clearly we all have a higher comfort level than we did at this point last year or even at the end of last year, leaving Roy out there."
Hibbert has been a favorite of the Georgetown student section ever since he showed some impressive dance skills as a freshman at midnight madness, but he was inconsistent and awkward on the court. His shining moment came when he dunked the winning basket at the buzzer in Georgetown's 55-54 win over Notre Dame in January.
Georgetown's coaches and players said throughout the preseason that Hibbert was the player who made the biggest improvement during the offseason, though Thompson also pointed out that Hibbert also had the room for the most growth.
Hibbert, who doesn't turn 19 until next month, got stronger, better conditioned and more confident.
The Hoyas were required to be in the weight room three times a week, but Hibbert would go in four or five days per week. He says that he weighs the same this year (280 pounds) as he did last year, but he remade his body -- he shed fat and added muscle. He certainly looks leaner; he no longer resembles the (very) overgrown kid that starred at Georgetown Prep two seasons ago.
Navy pulled within 36-24 with 17 minutes 46 seconds left. But Hibbert started an 11-2 run by driving to the basket -- bowling over Navy's Leonard Green in the process -- and scoring. Moments later, Hibbert was left alone at the foul line, so he put up a soft jumper -- a shot he wouldn't have taken as a freshman -- that put the Hoyas up 44-26.
"When I rebound and get the ball back, they're confident in throwing the lob back to me," said Hibbert, who shot 8 of 11.
"When I score, they know that I'm going to catch the ball. Last year, I fumbled the ball a few times. I'm confident."