COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s finally over.
Third-seeded Georgetown ended an NCAA tournament losing streak dating back to 2008 by beating No. 14 seed Belmont Friday afternoon.
“I will be misleading if I were to say it was not a relief,” Head Coach John Thompson III said.
During their 74-59 thumping of the Bruins, the Hoyas showed intensity, focus, and above all, motivation. Seniors Jason Clark and Henry Sims led the way, each earning their first NCAA tournament victory wearing the Blue and Gray.
“I think it was definitely a sense of urgency, not just for me but the whole team,” Clark said. “We’ve known what we’ve done in the past. So it was a big thing for us to get this win today.”
Sims had a more forward-looking mindset on the matter.
“We didn’t come here just for one game,” he said.
Clark was unstoppable all day, shooting 9-of-12 from the field to lead all scorers with 21 points and adding four rebounds and two steals. The senior was particularly deadly in the first half, hitting a trio of three-pointers that kept Belmont at arm’s length.
“I thought Clark making those three 3’s in the first half — and they weren’t real easy ones — were really big for them,” Belmont Head Coach Rick Byrd said.
Sims, meanwhile, carried over his tenacious play from the Big East tournament, tallying 14 points, five assists and four rebounds despite spending a large chunk of the first half on the bench after picking up two fouls in the first 10 minutes. The Hoya attack was rounded out by freshman forward Otto Porter, who added 16 points and eight rebounds.
“I got those two fouls early. It’s hard to get down when you know you’ve got teammates who can pick up the slack,” Sims said.
That’s not to say the Bruins didn’t make things interesting. The Hoyas were able to stretch their lead to 13 points early in the second half, but Belmont used a 9-2 run in less than three minutes to cut the deficit to just six points.
The crowd — mostly a combination of North Carolina State and Belmont fans — ignited at the comeback and Nationwide Arena began to rock. But after sophomore guard Markel Starks missed a three-pointer, it was Clark who grabbed the rebound and got the second-chance layup, cooling the crowd and leading Georgetown on a 13-4 run, capped by a fastbreak dunk by freshman forward Greg Whittington, that extended the lead to 15.
“There was no let-up or looking past anyone. We’re not going to do that,” Thompson III said.
The run was helped by Georgetown’s outstanding defense. The Hoyas easily outsized the Bruins — as they do most teams — but the size of the Hoya defenders in their aggressive zone defense made it almost impossible for Belmont’s ball handlers to even see open shooters.
“I didn’t expect as much zone defense,” Byrd said. “But it’s a great [zone]. [Georgetown is] well taught and they’ve got great athletes. If Syracuse is better than that, I’m glad we didn’t play Syracuse.”
Georgetown’s offense had a historic day as well, as the Hoyas shot 61.2 percent for the game, the highest percentage Belmont has allowed all season. North Carolina State fans were hoping their No. 11-seeded Wolfpack — which upset No.6-seeded San Diego State just a half hour earlier — would play the lower-seeded Bruins rather than the bigger and more impressive Hoyas.
Georgetown’s struggles since its 2007 Final Four run are well-documented. As a No. 2 seed in 2008, the Hoyas were upset by tenth-seeded Davidson in the second round. Following a first-round exit to Baylor in 2009 NIT, No. 3 seed Georgetown was stunned by No. 14 seed Ohio in 2010. Last year, No. 6 seed Georgetown was pulverized by No. 11 seed and eventual Final Four squad VCU. It’s worth noting, though, that the 2007 Final Four run started with a win over Belmont.
As impressive as the win was, Thompson III still had some criticisms.
“Let’s back up for a second. I mean, they hit 10 [three-pointers]. They got off 27. We didn’t want them to get that many off,” Thompson III said. “So let’s not act like our defense was impenetrable today. I mean, we had a good defensive effort, but it’s got to be a lot better if we want to have success on Sunday.”
Tipoff is scheduled for 12:15 p.m. EST at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.