This could have been a "let-down game". It probably should have been. This had "let-down game" written all over it.
Georgetown had just gone to Louisville and beat the No.4 Cardinals 71-68. Before that, they blasted Memphis, who was ranked No.8 when the Hoyas beat them for a first time at the Maui Invitational. Before that, they beat No.12 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, thus ending the Crimson Tide's 24-game home winning streak.
But we've seen this from Georgetown before. We saw it last season, when the Hoyas started 11-1 but lost six of their final seven games, including a first-round exit to VCU in the NCAA Tournament. We saw it in 2009-2010, when they started 9-1, but suffered head-scratching losses to South Florida and Rutgers, not to mention the ugly first-round loss to Ohio in the NCAA tournament. We saw it the year before that and the year before that.
Late-season meltdowns, early tournament exits, blown leads, early deficits, all of that.
But something seems to be different about this team.
The Hoyas (12-1, 2-0) shot a dismal 30% from the field, blew a 12-point lead and went scoreless for an eight-minute stretch of the second half. But this Hoya team, a different Hoya team than in season's past, prevailed 49-40 over the Providence Friars (11-4, 0-2) on New Years Eve.
Georgetown prevailed because they didn't quit. They didn't fold under the pressure. There was no squabbling, no poor body-language, no signs of panic, no nothing. Sure, they couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, but they never gave up. So even when they hadn't scored in eight minutes, they kept fighting. Otto Porter kept getting big rebounds, Jason Clark kept clawing for loose balls and Henry Sims kept going up strong.
Whether it was the "International Incident" that strengthened this team's resolve or the change in leadership, the 2011-2012 Hoyas are different.
This was your typical Big East regular season game. It was ugly. It was physical. It was hectic. It was exactly the type of game that Georgetown teams of the past would let slip away. But John Thompson III knows that this squad is more equipped to handle "grind-em out" games like this.
"This group, all we're concerned with is accumulating wins. The things that make you win aren't just putting the ball in the basket, and that's why we won today".
Early on, it became clear that this game would not be a shootout. It took Providence 16 minutes to reach double-digits, and when they finally did, the score was just 20-10. The Friars defense was bruising. Baskets weren't made, they were earned. On four consecutive possessions in the second half, Henry Sims went up strong against Brice Kofane, and on those four consecutive possessions, the two men ended up on the deck. Physical play like this defined this game.
Despite both teams shooting under 35% from the field, neither team gave up. "We played a 40-minute game, and we lost. We grew up a lot today. It's unfortunate that we lost, but this is good for our program", said Friars coach Ed Cooley at the post game press conference.
"Pride. I wanted them to be physical down low. Pride. It was about pride. This is what the Big East is all about."
This is what the Big East is all about, and if Georgetown wants to avoid another regular season meltdown, they are going to have to fight tooth-and-nail for 40 minutes every game.
Which is exactly what they did on Saturday afternoon.
What We Learned
The Hoyas are a much different team when Markel Starks is on the bench. Providence started their rally when Starks went to the bench early on in the second with foul trouble. For an extended period of time, the Hoyas had no true point guard on the court, and the offense looked out of sync. He hit a 3-pointer upon his return and the Hoyas closed out the game. As mentioned, Henry Sims went 2-13 from the field. In the last three games, he is a combined 7-33. I'm aware that he's having a break-out year, and his confidence is at an all-time high, but Sims doesn't need to shoot every time he touches the ball.
Freshman forward LaDontae Henton is going to be good. Like, really good. He took just seven shots, but logged his fourth double-double of the season. Vincent Council will continue to take a majority of the shots for this team, but Henton is an athletic wing that poses a lot of match-up problems for opponents. The Friars need depth. Ed Cooley used just seven players against Georgetown. The Big East is too much of a grind to rely on just seven players.