By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 5, 2010; 12:35 AM
After showing a propensity for burying opponents with three-pointers, 16th-ranked Georgetown proved Saturday it can use other methods to win games, too.
The Hoyas made a season-low two baskets from behind the arc, but a 21-point effort from senior Chris Wright and a suffocating full-court press helped them put away Utah State, 68-51, at Verizon Center and improve to 8-0.
"They did a terrific job taking away the threes," Coach John Thompson III said of the Aggies. "We didn't get that many open looks. Our team has done, is doing, and did a good job again today of taking what the defense gives us. We don't have to make threes to win games."
Georgetown came in as one of the nation's top three-point shooting teams, connecting on 44.9 percent of its shots from long range while sinking an average of 10.7 per game. But the Hoyas attempted a mere three in the first half and finished the game with only nine attempts, down from the 24 per game they had been averaging.
It didn't matter.
With the teams engaged in an inelegant but high-energy struggle early, Thompson called for his team to return to a full-court press late in the first half. The result was a 7-0 run that broke open a tied game and helped send his team into halftime leading 33-29.
"We wanted to change the tempo a little bit," Wright said. "We felt like they were getting into a rhythm in [their] half-court [offense]. So we switched our defense and it slowed them down offensively and [we] were able to force a couple of turnovers and build a little bit of a lead."
Another stretch of relentless pressure was applied by the Hoyas early in the second half, producing a momentum-turning 13-0 run that extended their lead to 50-34 and put the game out of the Aggies' reach. In all, the Hoyas turned 15 Utah State turnovers into 18 points at the other end, while Wright made a game-high four steals.
Thompson said he was pleased with the Hoyas' press, but stopped short of calling the performance his team's best defensive effort of the season.
"Our press not only slowed them down, we were able to create offense off of our defense," Thompson said. "We were able to take them out of their rhythm."
Just as Georgetown was taking Utah State (5-2) out of its comfort zone at one end, it was finding its groove at the other - even if that didn't include many three-pointers.
With Aggies star Tai Wesley picking up his fourth foul less than two minutes into the second half, Wright and the Hoyas found the going much easier on the inside as a result. Wesley, the Western Athletic Conference's preseason player of the year and Utah State's leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, finished with eight points and five rebounds before fouling out with 10 minutes 15 seconds left.
Because Austin Freeman was held to single digits for the first time this season (nine points) and Jason Clark mustered only seven points, Wright was left to carry the scoring load. His point total matched his season high from Tuesday's overtime win over Missouri, a game in which the point guard nailed a three-pointer at the end of regulation to force overtime. Against the Aggies, Wright added another highlight to his growing collection when he scored his sixth straight point on an acrobatic reverse layup late in the first half that stretched Georgetown's lead to 31-26.
"No, I don't practice that," he said with a smile. "I was just trying to draw some contact and just shot the ball up and it went in."
Wright wasn't the only standout for Georgetown. For the second straight game, junior Henry Sims received more minutes than starting center Julian Vaughn. Sims ended up with four points, a game-high six rebounds and team-leading three assists, including a pair of pretty inside dishes to Jerrelle Benimon after grabbing the ball off the glass. Vaughn finished with eight points, five rebounds and two blocks.
"My confidence is definitely growing, and it's showing out on the floor," Sims said.
Asked whether Sims will continue to get more playing time than Vaughn, Thompson said, "It's game by game" before turning to Sims and asking, "You're doing what you're supposed to do, right?"
To which Sims responded, "Yes sir."
"Okay," Thompson said, "If he keeps doing what he's supposed to do, he'll keep playing."
Georgetown is unbeaten through eight games for the second straight season and third time under Thompson, despite arguably the toughest nonconference schedule in the country. The Hoyas have defeated six teams that won at least 20 games last season, while the eight teams they've beaten were a combined 174-98 a year ago.
It gets no easier for the Hoyas, who travel to Atlantic 10 favorite Temple on Thursday. Which, of course, is exactly how Thompson wanted it.
"We have to stay focused, we have to stay even-keeled, we have to understand that the next event, the game, the next half, the next possession is the important possession, game, event of the year," he said. "With this preseason schedule, hopefully it will help develop that hardness, that mentality."