By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 16, 2007
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., March 15 -- There are times when Georgetown sophomore guard Jessie Sapp is so focused on getting his teammates involved in a game that his own performance -- in particular, his outside shooting -- can be affected. This, however, was not one of those games.
Sapp set career highs in points (20) and three-point shots (four) on Thursday to lead the second-seeded Hoyas to an 80-55 victory over 15th-seeded Belmont in an NCAA East Region first-round game before 14,148 at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"If I can get the easy pass off, I'll get it off. If I can get a bounce pass in there, I'll get it in there," said Sapp, who had made only one three-pointer in his previous six games. "So when [the ball] comes to me, I'm like, 'Oh my god, it's a shot.' I take it. Sometimes it's rushed. Today I didn't rush it."
The Hoyas (27-6) will face seventh-seeded Boston College, their former Big East rival, in a second-round game Saturday. The Eagles (21-11) beat 10th-seeded Texas Tech, 84-75. Georgetown and Boston College last played during the 2004-05 season -- John Thompson III's first year as the Hoyas' coach -- with the Eagles winning, 64-49.
All week long, television analysts and newspaper writers have proclaimed the Hoyas, who swept the Big East regular season and tournament titles, to be one of the favorites to get to the Final Four and possibly the championship game. But after five minutes against the Atlantic Sun champions, Georgetown found itself in an 11-4 hole.
Guard Henry Harris, the smallest player on the floor, tapped in a missed shot for Belmont's first points, and later darted past 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert (10 points, 13 rebounds) for a layup. Meantime, the Hoyas were called for two walking violations and forward Jeff Green, the Big East player of the year, missed three shots.
Freshman forward DaJuan Summers, the only Georgetown starter who was making his NCAA tournament debut, admitted to being nervous at the start of the game; his older teammates were just eager to finally play.
"We kind of forced a lot of things, and we didn't do the things that it takes to win the games," Green said of the opening five minutes. "That's how they got all those offensive rebounds. I think everybody was kind of antsy."
The Hoyas soon settled down and went on an 11-0 run -- in which Green scored eight points -- to take the lead to stay. But Georgetown had to play much of the first half without Green, Hibbert and Patrick Ewing Jr. (its top front-court reserve), as all three players picked up two quick fouls.
Thompson used nine players in the first 20 minutes, including this unfamiliar lineup: Sapp, guards Jonathan Wallace and Jeremiah Rivers, swingman Tyler Crawford and freshman forward Vernon Macklin. During that stretch, Sapp hit two three-pointers.
"He's one of the players on this team that doesn't get as much respect as he deserves," said Green, who had 15 points. "Today he kept us in the game in the first half, and we owe a lot to him for stepping up and making those shots."
The Bruins focused their energy on stopping Green, Hibbert and Wallace (a 47 percent three-point shooter), so Sapp was often left open. On paper, it seemed to be a sound strategy: Sapp is a career 26 percent three-point shooter, and he has really struggled since making a 60-foot shot to beat the halftime buzzer at Villanova on Feb. 17. In the seven games since, Sapp made just 2 of 27 three-point attempts.
"He totally gets all the credit," Belmont Coach Rick Byrd said. "He sure didn't look like a 28 percent three-point shooter to me the whole time. I always thought they were going in."
Sapp, who was an All-Met at National Christian, was born and raised in New York City, and it shows in his game. His teammates marvel at the way he can handle the ball, particularly in the open court, and they like the flair that he brings.
"Everybody from New York got a swagger," said Rivers, whose father is former New York Knicks guard and current Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "It's a good thing. You've got to have your confidence or else you're going to struggle. He definitely has confidence. . . . With Jessie, when he misses a shot, he doesn't care. But if he makes a shot, he gets a little edge, like he's ready to go."
And that edge rubs off on the other Hoyas. Rivers, who has a little flair of his own, had a career-high seven assists in 18 minutes off the bench. He was happiest, though, with one play that didn't even result in an assist: Rivers passed the ball to a cutting Sapp, who then dished it to Ewing for a basket and a foul.
"I was like, I'm throwing the Jessie pass!" Rivers said. "That's the signature pass on the team. I said that's the Sapp pass! I'm trying to steal from him."