By Tarik El-Bashir
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; D07
KANSAS CITY, MO. - Chris Wright sank a three-pointer as time expired in regulation to force Missouri to overtime. Then Jason Clark made sure the Tigers and their raucous, gold-and-black-clad supporters went home disappointed.
Clark scored three times from behind the arc in the extra session, and 16th-ranked Georgetown pulled away for a 111-102 victory that preserved the Hoyas' unblemished record and handed the ninth-ranked Tigers their first defeat Tuesday before 14,647 at Sprint Center.
Georgetown Coach John Thompson III brought his team halfway across the country seeking to test his players mentally, physically and emotionally against a top opponent in a hostile environment. Well, he certainly got what he was looking for.
"We accomplished all of that," he said. "This was a very good win against a very good team that you had to be prepared for, and attentive to, for 40, well, 45 minutes."
Austin Freeman scored a game-high 31 points, including four in overtime, and Wright finished with 21 points and 10 assists. But it was Clark and his career-high 26 points that put the Tigers (5-1) away.
Clark, who finished with 26 points, broke open a tie game at 3 minutes 5 seconds of overtime, shooting a three-pointer to put the Hoyas (7-0) ahead 101-98. After a Missouri (5-1) turnover, the smooth-shooting junior guard knocked down another three-pointer 51 seconds later to extend the visitors' lead to 104-98.
And Clark wasn't done. After a dunk by Missouri's Kim English at the other end reignited the raucous crowd, Clark coolly nailed a third three-pointer with 1:18 left in the extra session.
"The guys beside me kept telling me to keep shooting," said Clark, who entered overtime 1 for 6 from three-point range. "They had confidence in me, so I kept shooting."
The Hoyas led by as many as 18 points in the first half of the game. But turnovers coupled with poor shot selection allowed the Tigers to make a 20-10 run midway through the second half. The run culminated with a three-pointer by Marcus Denmon (team-high 27 points) that gave the Tigers their first lead of the game, 77-75.
The score stayed tight until the final minutes of regulation, when the Tigers opened a 93-89 lead on a pair of free throws by Michael Dixon that appeared to put Missouri in control. But the Tigers missed three of their next four free throws, while at the other end, Wright knocked down a pair of free throws and then made the three-pointer he called the biggest shot of his career.
"I felt like whoever took the shot was going to make it," said Wright, who finished with 21 points and 10 assists and credited Clark for chasing down an offensive rebound and getting the ball to him at the top of the arc as the clock wound down. "As soon as it left my hand, I felt like it was going in."
Although the game technically was played on a neutral floor, one look into the stands of this gleaming, three-year-old arena in downtown Kansas City, two hours from Missouri's campus, suggested otherwise. An almost exclusively black-and-gold-clad crowd of 14,647 packed the stands. At times, their cheering was so loud it drowned out the referees' whistle.
But if all the racket fazed the Hoyas, they had a strange way of showing it. The team went 18 for 18 from the free throw line, led by Wright, who was 9 for 9. Entering the game, interestingly, the Hoyas were shooting only 63.8 percent from the line.
When the Missouri fans were at their loudest, in the waning minutes of regulation, Georgetown focused in on the task at hand.
"We have a tough team," Thompson said. "It doesn't surprise us that we were able to bounce back. We made plays."
Missouri entered the game with a record of 59-18 since the start of the 2008-09 season. But winning is only part of what defines the Tigers under Coach Mike Anderson. Dubbed "The fastest 40 minutes in basketball," the team plays at a frenetic pace, forcing turnovers with a relentless press and parlaying them into fast-break points. They led the nation with 659 forced turnovers last season, and entered Tuesday averaging 22.8 turnovers per game compared to the Hoyas' 12.2.
That full-court and half-court pressure seemed to wear down the Hoyas late in regulation. In the span of 1 minute 38 seconds, the Hoyas committed four turnovers as the Tigers took their biggest lead of the game, 85-80. Moments later, Missouri's intense half court press forced a shot-clock violation.
"At one point, I was thinking I should take a time-out," Thompson said. "But I only had one time-out left, and I figured this group could work through it.
"When you play against well-coached teams, when you play against good teams, they are going to make plays like that when you have 14,000 or 15,000 people cheering against you. We just had a bad stretch."
But it's likely that stretch won't be remembered, thanks to the heroics of the Hoyas' three spectacular guards.
"We were poised," Thompson said, looking around at Freeman, Wright and Clark, who flanked him at the dais. "And these three guys sitting up here, did what they do."