As a four-year standout at Georgetown Prep, Markel Starks has received his share of congratulations after hitting winning shots.
But not for a winner made with more than four minutes remaining in a game.
Georgetown’s 37-36 victory over Tennessee this past Friday, a desultory offensive display by both teams in which not a single point was scored in the final 4 minutes 10 seconds, was a first for the junior point guard.
Reviewing film of the game, which raised the Hoyas’ record to 5-1, has been no picnic, judging from Coach John Thompson III’s mood following practice Monday. In an interview session with reporters that lasted less than three minutes, the only question that elicited more than a terse reply was one about Texas, Georgetown’s opponent in Tuesday’s Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden.
In squeaking past Tennessee, Georgetown shot just 36.4 percent, sank only one of seven three-point attempts and didn’t break 50 percent from the free throw line (four of nine) in the Hoyas’ lowest points total since 1984.
Much like their coach, Georgetown players said in more expansive terms that nothing on the tape or in their own recollection has shaken their faith in the offense, particularly since it resulted in a victory.
“It was just a bad shooting night,” said Starks, who finished with four points on 2-for-6 shooting. “A lot of easy shots didn’t go in. But you’re going to have nights like that.”
Junior forward Nate Lubick watched most of the game from the bench after banging his left elbow on Jarnell Stokes’s head so hard while battling for a rebound that he temporarily lost sensation in his fingers.
He, too, saw little reason for concern with the offense.
“We got good looks,” he said. “It wasn’t like we were really taking bad shots, so that facet — you can’t be that mad at. The ball just wasn’t going in.”
The Hoyas’ offensive struggles didn’t trouble voters in the Associated Press poll, either.
They elevated Georgetown from No. 20 to No. 15 in the rankings on a tumultuous Monday that saw defending NCAA champion Kentucky fall from the top 25 entirely.
If the Tennessee game represents the Hoyas’ most anemic offensive performance this season, Tuesday’s contest against Texas (5-2) may be among their more physical.
Though not a particularly high-scoring team (their season-high 73 points came in a loss to Division II Chaminade), the Longhorns make good use of their height and heft in rebounding (40.7 per game, to Georgetown’s 32.8) and defense. Like Georgetown, they lean heavily on a pair of sophomore forwards, Sheldon McClennan and Julien Lewis, who average 17 and 12 points respectively.
Lubick took part in Monday’s practice wearing a compression sleeve on his elbow and will play Tuesday. His return should help Georgetown’s rebounding, which hasn’t been the team’s strength despite its size.
“We just have to be better at rebounding,” Lubick said. “People can say it’s our lack of depth inside, but we’re over 6-foot-8 across the board so there is no excuse not to rebound.”
Otto Porter Jr., who led the Hoyas in rebounding as a freshman last season, agreed.
“We just have to go after it more,” Porter said. “Whoever wants it is going to get it. We just got to get that instilled into our brain and just play good defense.”
Asked if he saw anything positive in reviewing tape of the Tennessee game, Thompson said: “We held them to 36 points. We scored more than they did. Other than that, it was difficult to watch.”
Starks, who said he received numerous wise-cracking e-mails and texts about his winner, accentuated the positive.
“I’m glad we had that game,” he said. “Obviously we persevered through it, so that was really good. . . . It is what it is, we got the W.”