One challenge presenting the Hoyas this season involved replacing their top three scorers from the previous campaign. No one said anything about getting by without All-American candidate Otto Porter. Through two games, that's been the task. Against Liberty, the burden was hardly a chore, though any sense of urgency disappeared early in the second half.
With the All-American candidate sidelined over concussion concerns, fellow sophomore Greg Whittington carried the scoring load as Georgetown moved past the visiting Big South program 68-59 on Wednesday night at the Verizon Center in the regional round of the Legends Classic.
Whittington scored 12 of his career-high 18 points in the first half and grabbed nine rebounds for the Hoyas, who led by 16 points at halftime and double digits throughout until the final minute.
Before tipoff, the school released a statement from Coach John Thompson III that Porter, the Hoyas (2-0) leading returning scorer and rebounder, would not play as he "exhibited symptoms indicative of a mild concussion," following Sunday's 61-55 win over Duquesne.
Porter played a scoreless six minutes against Duquesne, holding his head and wincing in pain as he left the game for good midway through the first half. The 6-foot-8 forward and Preseason All Big East first-team selection did not return to the bench, though he watched from the sideline against Liberty after playing in the first 34 games of his Georgetown career.
"I think he's coming along fine," Thompson said following the Hoyas final tune-up before facing No. 13 UCLA on Monday in Brooklyn. After the semifinal of the Legends Classic, Georgetown will meet either top-ranked Indiana or Georgia on Tuesday.
"I think he'll be available but that's up to our medical staff," Thompson said. "He's progressing. It's mild, it's not moderate, or it's not serious."
Against the undersized Flames (0-3), the black suit sporting Porter watched his gray-jersey wearing teammates handle their business, but also play down to their overmatched opponent in stretches. The Hoyas extended their lead to 55-32 with 13 minutes remaining, but took their foot of the gas and ultimately outscored 34-27 in the second half.
"With all due respect to Liberty, we've got some games coming up, we're preparing for some teams a little bit better than them," said junior Nate Lubick, who also set a career-high with 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds. "We use these games to find ourselves, to find what this team's identity is going to be...I think we've kind of struggled to do that the past two games. I don't think our sense of urgency has been there."
Liberty made its first two shots for a quick four-point lead only to see the Hoyas unleash an effective full court press that caused 11 first half turnovers and spark a 17-0 run.
Playing without three frontcourt options and with only one starter taller than 6-foot-5, the Flames found success from beyond the arc. Five first-half 3-pointers helped cut into the lead at 23-18, but the Hoyas closed the first half on 18-6 run.
Markel Starks' perfectly executed bounce pass to a streaking Whittington for a layup capped the first half scoring and gave Georgetown its largest lead of the half at 41-25. Whittington made 6 of 8 shots in the first half and the Hoyas finished 16 of 26 (61.5 percent).
"[Greg] has that responsibility slash burden to do a lot of different things," Thompson said of his other talented sophomore forward and the one who dominated the boards in Georgetown's season opener. "I don't think it's any surprise to see he scored points today no more than it was a surprise that he got 15 rebounds the last game."
Whittington's 3-point touch was not readily apparent, however, missing all five of his attempts. He was hardly an outlier from distance as Georgetown shot 2 of 15 overall from beyond the arc, missing eight of nine 3-pointers after halftime.
Defensively the Hoyas allowed Liberty to shoot 52.6 percent (10 of 19) from 3-point range. The Flames entered the contest making 27 percent of their 3-point attempts.
"They got Sunday, out at the park shots and they went in," Thompson said of the Flames from distance looks. "Our attention to detail at the defensive end, I don’t think was good all night. Our communication was not good all night, so regardless of the combinations coach has out there, we have to be better."
Casey Roberts led Liberty with 13 points.
"We probably caught Georgetown on a night that they weren't quite as inspired as they will be later in the year. It's understandable," Liberty coach Dale Layer said. "I thought we played our best that we've played, and it took every bit of our best just to kind of hang in there and not be a 30-point blowout."
Mikael Hopkins also tallied 13 points and freshman guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera had 11. On the boards, the taller Hoyas only finished with a 29-27 rebounding margin.
"[Liberty] fought and scrapped and that’s a credit to their coach," Thompson said. "From our perspective, we’re trying to get ready for the future. So sometimes, you have in different lineups that you want to see how they work and different combinations and people in different positions. It’s hard to go through that and say let’s not look at the scoreboard, let’s remember what we’re trying to accomplish right here."