WASHINGTON DC – Back in the early 80’s, when John Thompson Jr. led Georgetown to three national title games in four year, the Hoyas were the epitome of physical basketball.
They pressed, they pushed, and they pummeled for 40 minutes. They intimidated opponents, seemingly winning games without even having to set foot on the court. That’s what happens when you have players like Sleepy Floyd, Fred Brown, and Reggie Williams on the perimeter, Patrick Ewing manning the paint, and a snarling Thompson roaming the sidelines. (For what its worth, even at 69 years old, JTII is just as intimidating as ever.)
They didn’t call it “Hoya Paranoia” for nothing.
The younger Thompson’s teams haven’t been known for playing with that same physicality. Instead of Ewing, Dikembe Mutumbo, and Alonzo Mourning, he had Jeff Green, Greg Monroe, and Roy Hibbert. Full court presses and blocked shots have been replaced with high post screens and back door cuts.
JTIII has had success, making a Final Four and winning a Big East regular season title, but he has won using more of a finesse, Princeton-style offense.
This team, however, may be different.
In Georgetown’s 69-60 win over Marquette on Sunday afternoon, the Hoyas took control down the stretch with their defense and their rebounding. It was the second straight game they had done so, using a late 15-3 run to knock off Syracuse on Wednesday.
Against Marquette, it was a 11-1 surge that started with 7:23 left in the game that was the difference. Up 52-50 at the time, Henry Sims scored on a drop step, drawing Davante Gardner’s fifth foul in the process. Two possessions later, after a turnover by Jimmy Butler, Austin Freeman got a layup to push the lead to seven. After another turnover by Dwight Buycks, Jason Clark was fouled going in for a layup and hit both free throws. After Junior Cadougan hit 1-2 from the line, Clark again drove and drew a foul, hitting two more free throws. With 3:43 left in the game, Georgetown was all of a sudden up 61-51, and despite a late push by Darius Johnson-Odom, the Hoyas held on to win.
“We can sit here and talk about schemes and systems, man and zone,” Thompson said after the game. “At the end of the day, you have to guard somebody. If the guy’s in front of you, guard him.”
“I think its just as simple as the guys understand now that its personal.”
The Hoyas took it personal in the second half, as Marquette was simply unable to get into any kind of a rhythm on the offensive end of the floor. Marquette shot just 31.8% from the floor and had a 36.3% eFG. They turned the ball over nine times in 36 possessions. They had just an 11.1 offensive rebounding percentage. All told, Georgetown allowed Marquette just 0.69 PPP over the final 20 minutes.
The key wasn’t necessarily the defense. It was the rebounding. In the first half, Marquette grabbed six offensive rebounds and scored 10 second chance points. In the second half, Marquette managed just two offensive rebounds and didn’t score a single second chance point.
“I don’t think out defense was poor in the first half,” Thompson said. “Our rebounding was poor. We were getting a lot of the same stops, but we were getting the ball in the second half instead of them getting second shots.”
The hero? Sophomore Hollis Thompson. Austin Freeman sprained his ankle at the end of the first half and was late getting back to the court as he got it retaped. So Thompson started, and he didn’t disappoint. Thompson grabbed 12 of his career-high 13 rebounds in the second half, with all but two of them coming on the defensive end.
“Coming out of the locker room we emphasized boxing out and getting rebounds, and I think my teammates did a great job of boxing out which allowed me to come in and get some boards,” Thompson said.
Georgetown was known as a team with terrific guard play and a perimeter oriented offensive attack.
But the last two games, they have proven they can win gritty, physical basketball games against quality competition.
Maybe there is a reason this team has now won eight straight Big East basketball games.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.