COLUMBUS, Ohio — Regardless of what’s ahead for Georgetown in the coming days and weeks, seniors Jason Clark and Henry Sims are assured of leaving the Hilltop knowing what it’s like to win an NCAA tournament game.
And Georgetown Coach John Thompson III won’t have to field any more questions about the Hoyas’ troubling trend of under-performing when college basketball’s national championship is at stake.
Behind a fierce defensive stand and a game-high 21 points from Clark, third-seeded Georgetown rolled to a 74-59 victory over 14th-seeded Belmont on Friday in a Midwest Region round-of-64 game at Nationwide Arena.
It was Georgetown’s first NCAA tournament victory since 2008, and it set up a meeting Sunday against No. 11 seed North Carolina State.
The Wolfpack upset sixth-seeded San Diego State, 79-65, in Friday’s earlier game.
“I will be misleading if I were to say it was not a relief,” Thompson said after his Hoyas turned back Belmont, which was bidding to become the latest mid-major (following Virginia Commonwealth last year and Ohio the season before) to topple the 1984 NCAA champions in the first round.
“Our guys turn on the TV and seems like most of the world is picking us to lose today. And so you plant that seed [of doubt]. . . . But this tournament is not about ‘let’s get that monkey off your back.’ It’s not. We’re going to see if we can win another one Sunday.”
Georgetown (24-8) held Belmont to 38.9 percent shooting while connecting on 61.2 percent of its own attempts — “scary good offensive efficiency,” in the words of Belmont Coach Rick Byrd.
Hoyas freshman Otto Porter contributed 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting and Sims added 15 points.
But the game was won largely on defense.
Georgetown’s 2-3 zone proved particularly problematic for the Bruins, who were outmatched in size, skill and basically every regard but heart.
“The better team won the game,” Byrd conceded, “and I’d like to say different. But they deserve a lot of credit.”
Belmont (27-8) led for a matter of seconds, scoring the opening basket, then played from behind all afternoon.
And when the Bruins pulled within nine, 58-49, with just more than five minutes remaining, the Hoyas’ seniors slammed the door on any notion of Belmont making a Cinderella run in this season’s tournament.
Sims flung his 6-foot-10 frame to the rim for a layup and Clark raced full court on a fast break for another score to reclaim the momentum.
It was a game that pitted the nation’s top three-point defense (Georgetown) against one of its more prolific from beyond the arc (Belmont).
Despite the competitive imbalance suggested by their respective resumes and seeding, both teams entered the game with a major point to prove, having been bounced in the NCAA tournament’s first round last year.
Georgetown started four players 6-8 or taller; Belmont, just one. The significance was clear from the outset.
Arms extended, Georgetown erected a fortress in front of Belmont’s basket, forcing the Bruins to win from beyond the arc.
In an effort to get their shots off before Georgetown defenders were set, the Bruins often rushed their attempts and misfired as a result.
The 27 attempts from three-point range were far too many for Thompson’s tastes, as were the 10 they connected on.
“We had a good defensive effort,” Thompson said, “but it’s got to be a lot better if we want to have success on Sunday.”
The Hoyas had little trouble driving to the basket, and Clark established that he was a three-point threat early, hitting a pair to stake Georgetown to a 12-8 lead.
Georgetown took a 36-27 lead to the break, and Sims returned to start the second half.
Belmont pulled within six, 42-36, but only re-ignited the Hoyas offense, with freshman Greg Whittington drilling a three-pointer and following with a dunk for a 55-40 lead.
●N.C. STATE 79, SAN DIEGO 65: Richard Howell doubled his average, scoring 22 points, and the 11th-seeded Wolfpack used its muscle inside and a sticky defense to upset the sixth-seeded Aztecs (26-8).
“None of us had ever played in a game like this,” Howell said. “This gave us a big confidence boost.”
The 6-foot-8, 250-pound Howell got North Carolina State (23-12) off on the right foot with 15 first-half points.
“In today’s game, we felt we could have success around the basket,” first-year Coach Mark Gottfried said. “We made the decision to go toward Richard, and he lit up like a Christmas tree.”
It was the Wolfpack’s first NCAA tournament win since 2006 and their largest NCAA tournament victory since 1991.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.