But it wasn’t as easy as expected.
After watching a double-digit lead get whittled to two points, the 18th-ranked Hoyas needed a late surge led by freshman Otto Porter to pull out a 62-48 victory that did not leave Coach John Thompson III impressed with his team’s effort or execution.
“It would be easy to stand here and come up with a bunch of excuses as to what happened,” Thompson said. “But I don’t want to take anything away from Coach [Kevin] Nickelberry and what his team did. They outplayed us.”
When the Hoyas raced out to 17-0 lead at Verizon Center on Saturday, it appeared they were headed toward another easy win. Georgetown (8-1), after all, came into the game with a 6-0 record against the Bison, a 28.8-point average margin of victory against its crosstown rival and a 51-0 all-time mark against the MEAC.
But Mike Phillips and the youthful Bison had other ideas. Phillips (team-high 14 points, five rebounds) knocked down a jumper with 7 minutes 33 seconds remaining to trim Howard’s deficit to 42-40 and send a shiver through much of the announced crowd of 8,120.
But that was as close at Howard would get.
After Hollis Thompson (12 points, six rebounds, 0 for 4 from three-point range) knocked down a pair of free throws, Porter turned the game in the Hoyas’ favor for good. The 6-foot-8 forward intercepted a pass at the top of the key and finished at the other end with an emphatic dunk that staked Georgetown to a 46-40 edge and energized the Hoyas’ bench with 6:13 remaining.
Three minutes later, Porter threw down another slam after a behind-the-back feed from Markel Starks to give Georgetown a 55-44 lead and put the game out of Howard’s reach. Porter’s 13 points made him the first freshman to lead the Hoyas in scoring this season.
Between Porter’s dunks, meantime, the Bison committed four of their 23 turnovers as they struggled to escape the Hoyas’ relentless press.
“John did a great job and went to full-court press,” Nickelberry said, referring to the Hoyas’ coach. “We hadn’t seen that on tape. They’ve been a 1-2-2 most of the year, then they went full court and pressed us. It was something different. By the time we adjusted, it was too late.”
Despite the loss, the Bison (3-6) have reason to feel good about the future. With a roster that includes six freshmen, they challenged a ranked Big East opponent deep into the second half and they’re already halfway to last season’s win total.
“We’ve been able to come back and put ourselves into position every game,” Nickelberry said. “It really comes down to, can we close? We’re young, got some kids that fight, which is a good thing.”
The positive vibes, though, weren’t being shared down the hallway. In addition to being outrebounded, 38-36, the Hoyas shot a season-low 32.7-percent from the field and made 29 of their 42 free throw attempts (69 percent).
“They came to play,” Thompson III said. “They got to most of the 50-50 balls. They made plays.”
Senior Jason Clark (12 points on 1 for 10 shooting from the field) was similarly critical of the Hoyas, who have a week off before hosting American next Saturday.
“Coach told us before that this was their biggest game of the season, so we knew they were going to come out and compete with us,” Clark said. “They did. They definitely played harder than us today.”
Hoyas note: Freshman center Tyler Adams is undergoing a battery of tests on his heart at Georgetown University Hospital after complaining of chest pains in practice this week. The 6-foot-9, 275-pound native of Brandon, Miss., watched the game from the bench but will not participate in basketball-related activities until further notice. “It’s a huge level of concern,” Thompson said after the game. “The prognosis, I don’t have too much more information. We’ll see as we go forward.”