NEW YORK -- The Hoyas crashed the party Monday night.
Actually, to be more accurate, they canceled it.
With No. 1 Indiana and No. 11 UCLA making rare trips to the Big Apple, Georgetown put on the most impressive show Monday night, besting the Bruins in the second semifinal of the Legends Classic, 78-70, at the Barclays Center.
The college basketball world was buzzing about UCLA star freshman Shabazz Muhammad, who was making his collegiate debut. But unranked Georgetown put on a clinic instead, and put the kibosh on a much-anticipated Indiana-UCLA matchup in the championship game.
The Bruins knew they were in for a battle from the start, when the Hoyas jumped out to a 10-2 lead. UCLA recovered and went up by four, 24-20, with eight minutes and change before halftime. But a savvy move by Georgetown coach John Thompson III, switching to a 2-3 zone, enabled the Hoyas to retake the lead, 31-29, at halftime.
“It was effective,” Thompson admitted. “They were getting a lot of easy baskets in the first half, and I thought it slowed them down just a little bit.”
“We really were tentative, (we) didn’t get it inside,” said UCLA coach Ben Howland.
The Hoyas charged out of the gate with 12 straight points after intermission, taking their largest lead, 43-29, with 17:42 left. UCLA clawed back within four points on five different occasions, but could get no closer. Every time the Bruins got within striking distance, the Hoyas had an answer -- often via a backcut and a nifty pass.
Georgetown shot 54.5 percent from the field (30-for-55), and 50 percent from beyond the arc (7-for-14).
“(In) the second half, their offense really, really cut us up,” said Howland.
Georgetown was well aware of the hype surrounding Muhammad, widely regarded as the top high school player in the country last year, who was just cleared to play by the NCAA on Friday. Muhammad scored 15 points on the night, but it was an unspectacular 15.
“We knew that he was gonna play,” said Georgetown sophomore swingman Otto Porter. “We wanted to just kind of keep him contained.”
Porter, meanwhile, was the best player on the floor Monday night, finishing with a boxscore-busting 18 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, five blocks and three steals. Not bad for a guy who missed the team’s last game with concussion symptoms.
“We’re a better team with him on the court,” said Thompson, in the understatement of the night.
Georgetown also appears to be a better team than most people expected this season. The Hoyas, after losing their top three scorers from a year ago, were picked to finish fifth in the Big East.
But if they continue playing like this, they could contend for a conference championship.
Porter had plenty of help Monday. Junior guard Markel Starks, who averaged 7.1 points per game as a sophomore, scored a game-high 23, shooting 9-for-14 from the field. Sophomore forward Greg Whittington chipped in 13.
“I think this team trusts each other, and they trust what we’re doing,” said Thompson. “A couple of nights ago it was D’Vauntes (Smith-Rivera), tonight Markel scored points, and tomorrow night it may be someone different. This is an unselfish group.”
It’s also a group with zero McDonald’s high school All-Americans. UCLA has three from last year’s McDonald’s game alone.
But Georgetown will be the team facing top-ranked Indiana on Tuesday.
They’ve already gotten the country’s attention. If the Hoyas pull off another victory in Brooklyn, they’ll be the talk of college basketball.
It’s only November, folks. But the Madness has begun.