WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Here's what we know for sure: the 2010-11 edition of the Georgetown Hoyas wouldn't have done what the 2011-12 edition did Wednesday night at the Verizon Center, rallying from a 17-point second-half deficit to win 73-70 and move to 3-0 in the Big East (13-1 overall) with a difficult, but perfectly winnable game against West Virginia coming up Saturday.
So, what happened?
For one thing Georgetown simultaneously became more aggressive and patient on offense. After being outscored 22-8 in the paint in the first half, the Hoyas flipped that script completely, winning the paint battle 20-4 in the second half. Though senior leader Jason Clark did score 18 of his 26 total points in the second half, this reversal wasn't entirely due to the Arlington native putting his head down and driving to the tin. As they inched their way back in this game, Georgetown used John Thompson III's Princeton-style offense perfectly, waiting until the last possible moment to find a cutter to the basket before making the pass. This eventually made Marquette lay off the ball pressure that had forced 12 first-half turnovers for the Hoyas (Georgetown only committed four turnovers in the second half).
"When we called the timeout when Todd [Mayo] hit the shot in the corner [to put Marquette up 56-39 with 13 minutes to go], at that moment in time it just became Clark driving us and that's not necessary the just the guy that is guarding Clark at that time its whoever's gotta be on the help side," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said after the game. "Once we kind of contained that, then they went back to running the Princeton stuff that they ran, and I don't think you can necessarily say it's the inside guy. I think how they play is to team offense and how you have to defend them is team defense. So collectively we didn't do a good enough job of executing in the half court defensively."
Marquette didn't do their job offensively in the second half, either. Over the last 13 minutes of the game, Georgetown outscored the Golden Eagles 34-14, as the visitors' offense became stagnant and predictable. Marquette turned the ball over 11 times in the second half, and star man Darius Johnson-Odom went just 1-for-6 from the field as the Hoyas swarmed the perimeter.
A lot of the credit for Georgetown's second-half defensive performance can go to the group of freshmen who came in on defense early in the second half. Otto Porter entered the game for Nate Lubick in his customary first-off-the-bench spot at the 17:40 mark. Mikael Hopkins came in for Henry Sims two minutes later after the latter picked up his third personal foul. Less than two minutes after that, the duo of Greg Whittington and Jabril Trawick came in to replace Hollis Thompson, who had also picked up his third foul, and the ineffective Markel Starks, who admittedly wasn't helped by a nasty-looking first-half collision with Jamil Wilson in some first-half rebounding action.
Hopkins made way for Sims with 9:38 to go. In the five-plus minutes that the freshman foursome (plus Clark) had been on the floor together, Georgetown had managed to keep the game respectable (the score had only gone from 51-39 to 60-50). The new group of Clark, Sims, Trawick, Whittington and Porter managed to whittle the score down to 64-59 before Trawick was replaced by Thompson with 5:47 to go. Thompson managed to score all eight of his second-half points in the final 3:21, including the game-winning three-pointer.
"That's the group that got us jump-started," John Thompson III said after the game. "That's what is going to win us games in this conference, you have to get stops. In the second half, I was proud of the guys for strapping up and getting stops."
On Clark, who went 6-for-7 from the field in the second after a disappointing first-half performance, Thompson said this:
"Jason decided to go with the plan. In the first half, he was missing shots and he was down on himself because he was missing shots. From the very first possession of the second half you saw his focus change: 'I'm going to guard that guy.' As he focused in on his defense his shot started to fall. His defense set the tone and his offense followed."
If the Marquette game is any guide, Thompson can now turn to a team that can contribute from nine-deep. Compare that to last year, when Sims and Starks were still a year away from becoming regular starters and Clark and Thompson were deferring to Austin Freeman and Chris Wright. When Wright guard went down with a broken wrist late in the season, no one was ready to take his place, and the result was an NCAA Tournament blowout at the hands of VCU.
There's still half a season to play, and road games coming against Syracuse, Pitt, St. John's, and Marquette, but if these patterns hold, the disappointing finish to last season should be little more than a distant memory.