While other teams in the Maui Invitational extended their trip so they could spend Thanksgiving Day snorkling and sightseeing, the Hoyas were eager to get back to the mainland.
“We’re leaving tonight,” coach John Thompson III told ESPN.com by phone. “We’re going home.”
They should certainly expect a warm reception.
Even though the fifth-place medal isn’t as gaudy as the championship trophy it hoped to claim, Georgetown left Maui with plenty of reasons for encouragement following a strong showing in Monday’s 67-63 loss to No. 14 Kansas and a banner effort in Wednesday’s victory over the eighth-ranked Tigers.
“There’s reason for excitement when you come away with a win against a team of that caliber,” Thompson III said. “And the Kansas game was winnable, too. This team believes in each other and they believe in what we’re doing. Am I pleased with where we are? No, I’m not pleased, because this team has so much room for growth. But I’m not displeased, either.”
Nor should he be.
Georgetown lost its top two scorers (Austin Freeman and Chris Wright) from a squad that won 21 games last season. Also gone is reliable forward Julian Vaughn. That’s why no one really flinched when Big East coaches picked the Hoyas to finish 10th in the league standings this season. Ten of the 13 players on Georgetown’s roster are either freshmen or sophomores.
But it certainly didn’t show against Memphis on Wednesday.
The Hoyas played an intense brand of defense, committed just nine turnovers and showed incredible patience on offense. Unlike its opponent, Georgetown didn’t force shots or make poor decisions down the stretch. Instead, the Hoyas kept their poise, played with structure and came up big when it mattered most.
“Winning a game [in this fashion] was good for us because we’re so young,” Thompson III said. “For long stretches there I had three freshmen on the court at the same time. We’ve got to learn how to win and how to win together. In the Kansas game, we made mistakes down the stretch that we could’ve controlled. We could’ve won that game.
“Tonight we didn’t make mistakes. We controlled what we could. Will it help? Time will tell.”
Freshman Otto Porter, whom the Hoyas signed late, continues to be a huge spark. The versatile forward played 40 minutes Wednesday and contributed 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists and 2 blocks.
“He is the most prepared freshman that I’ve coached,” Thompson III said. “Mentally, physically, emotionally ... just being prepared to compete at this level in a way that most freshmen are not. A lot of freshmen don’t understand how to compete at this level. But he walked in the door knowing how to compete.”
Forward Hollis Thompson (12 points, 7 rebounds) certainly caught the attention of the slew of NBA scouts seated courtside with his inside-out game. But the two most impressive players Wednesday were center Henry Sims and shooting guard Jason Clark, both of whom are seniors.
Sims scored a career-high 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting. He also had 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Sims has never averaged more than 3.6 points in a single season, but now that some of Georgetown’s key pieces are gone, the 6-foot-10, 245-pounder is stepping up.
“He had a terrific game,” Thompson III said. “He’s 6-10 and fairly athletic. He’s realizing that if he exerts the effort and the energy, good things will happen.”
Clark, who has been one of Georgetown’s top players the last two years, had a game-high 26 points. His 3-pointer with 50 seconds left in overtime gave the Hoyas an 88-86 lead and a momentum they would never relinquish.
In Tuesday’s win over Chaminade, Clark scored 28 points in 24 minutes. He had 15 points in Monday’s loss to Kansas. He made a remarkable 12 of 20 3-point attempts in Maui.
“The good thing about Jason is that he doesn’t take shots he shouldn’t take,” Thompson III said. “He knows where his shots are coming from. He doesn’t force anything. He lets it come to him. He takes the right shots. He’ll have [the best year of his career] if he doesn’t push or press anything.”
Actually, JT3 feels that way about his entire team. If the Hoyas continue to improve, there’s no reason they can’t be one of the top teams in the Big East -- or at least better than 10th.
“We lost a lot with Chris, Austin and Julian,” Thompson III said. “They were at the forefront of everything we did the last few years. But we have people that are willing to step up. Our team is much different now. As long as we believe in each other, we’ll be OK.
“There isn’t a false bravado. They know we have to get better. They know we’re not close to being where we should. This win isn’t going to change that.”