With a team as young as his Hoyas -- a total of 10 freshmen and sophomores -- Thompson wanted to see them get out of the jam by themselves. And they did.
Playing its first game this season as a ranked team, Georgetown (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) held Howard scoreless for nearly 10 minutes at the start Saturday, then staved off a strong comeback bid before dominating down the stretch to win 62-48 behind freshman Otto Porter's 13 points.
"They've got to figure some things out on their own. We can call a timeout, but I wanted to see who was going to step up, who was going to talk, who was going to try to make adjustments on their own," Thompson said.
"I mean, yes, we can go debate the nuances of whether that's a good coaching move or not. But this group needs to figure out at certain points of the game, 'OK, we need to handle this. We need to talk about this. We need to grow up.' Because they know ... what we should do," Thompson said.
He mainly relied on the leadership of senior Jason Clark and junior Hollis Thompson, who each chipped in with 12 points for the Hoyas (8-1) despite shooting poorly. On a six-game winning streak, the Hoyas hadn't played in a week and now will get another week off before their next game -- at home next Saturday against another D.C. school, American University.
Georgetown entered the ESPN/USA Today and The Associated Press top 25 rankings on Monday, thanks in part to victories over ranked teams Memphis and Alabama, and knew what to expect from Howard (3-6), which got 14 points from Mike Phillips.
"Coach told us before, it was their biggest game of the season. So we knew that they were going to come out and compete with us," Clark said. "They did. They definitely played harder than us today."
He and Hollis Thompson -- who isn't related to the coach -- went a combined 3 for 18 on field-goal tries, part of a rough shooting day for both teams. Neither quite made 33 percent from the field.
"I feel like we missed 10 layups. Now, they weren't your breakaway, wide-open layups. They were contested layups," John Thompson III said. "But we missed during the course of that game, I'm going to guess, 10 to 15 layups. And now you couple that with missing foul shots?"
Hmmmm. Howard coach Kevin Nickelberry might have snickered at that comment, because while Georgetown did miss 13 foul shots, it got a chance to attempt 42. Howard only took 22 free throws, making 14.
"They shot 42 free throws. We must be the foulingest team in America," Nickelberry said, shaking his head.
Still, after Georgetown began the game by taking a 17-0 lead -- Howard missed its first 11 shots -- the visitors began chipping away. When Simuel Frazier made a pull-up jumper with about 12½ minutes to play, he cut Georgetown's lead to 34-32.
It was still a two-point margin at 38-36 when Howard had the ball and a chance to tie or go ahead, but Prince Okoroh was called for traveling along the baseline. The Bison's next possession ended with Frazier fumbling the ball out of bounds on a wild drive through the lane.
The Hoyas stifled Howard's offense in part by turning to a full-court press.
"We hadn't seen that on tape yet," Nickelberry said, noting that Georgetown generally has relied on a 1-2-2 zone.
"We hadn't really worked on that. ... As a young team, we had to adjust. By the time we adjusted," he added, "it was too late."
When Georgetown's Markel Starks dropped a no-look pass back to Porter for a fastbreak-closing dunk, the hosts' lead was back up to 55-44 with about 2½ minutes to go.
In the early going, Howard simply could not put the ball through the hoop. When Okoroh's jumper from near the free-throw line rolled around the rim a few times before trickling out nearly eight minutes after tipoff, some spectators responded with a joint groan of disappointment.
But Howard finally struck on its next possession, when Dadrian Collins made a 3-pointer from the left wing with slightly more than 10½ minutes left in the first half.
That began a stretch in which Howard outscored Georgetown 17-13, making the Hoyas' halftime lead 30-17. And the Bison scored the first five points of the second half, making things interesting for a while.
"We were worried about skill vs. will, to be honest with you. They're a good skill team," Nickelberry said. "We had to will them to play ugly, play our style, and we tried to do that in the second half."
Before the game, Georgetown announced that 6-foot-9 freshman Tyler Adams of Brandon, Miss., will be sidelined indefinitely because of concerns about his heart. He complained of chest pains before a practice during the week, John Thompson III said, and has been having tests done at Georgetown University Hospital.
"Him getting on the basketball court is irrelevant right now," the coach said. "When and if it happens, great. And if it doesn't happen, we just want to make sure he's OK. That's first and foremost."