TAMPA — Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. went sprawling after loose balls, fell hard on an elbow and did just about everything a player could do to keep a Big East victory from slipping away Saturday. But trailing South Florida by one with less than 12 seconds remaining, he got pounded so hard as he drove for a final shot that the ball popped out. The scrum that followed sent the Bulls to the free throw line to seal a come-from-behind 61-58 triumph.
It was South Florida’s first Big East victory of the season, and it landed like a punch in the gut to a young Hoyas team that had hoped to reassert its relevance in conference play after an 0-2 start.
Saturday’s game presented Georgetown with a prime opportunity to finally inch above .500 in league play. South Florida was the sole Big East team averaging fewer points than Georgetown, and it stood dead last in the league standings. But after taking an 11-point lead early in the second half, Georgetown played as if the outcome was a foregone conclusion — at least most everyone except Porter, who scored 16 of the Hoyas’ 27 second-half points.
Afterward, Coach John Thompson III questioned whether his team, which was ranked as high as No. 15 this season before losing three of its past five games, grasped the effort and energy required to compete in the Big East.
“As a group, the attention to detail was not good,” Thompson said. “As a group, the effort needed to win in this league was not there.”
Porter, the only Hoyas player to accompany Thompson to the postgame interview session, led all players with 21 points and added six rebounds. Freshman D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera contributed 16 points and six rebounds, while Nate Lubick, who fouled out in the scramble for the ball knocked away from Porter, grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds and scored eight points.
Thompson said he felt Porter was fouled on the play.
Porter was non-committal, saying: “I mean, it’s the Big East. There’s going to be a lot of contact. I just happened to get bumped real hard. The ball came loose.”
The outcome hardly hinged on that single turnover. It was one of 15 by the Hoyas, which led to 20 South Florida points. More costly was the lax perimeter defense in the second half, during which the Hoyas stood flat-footed as the Bulls drilled seven three-pointers in the first 10 minutes after the break.
“Quite honestly, our sense of urgency to get out on shooters wasn’t what it needed to be,” Thompson said.
Georgetown (12-4, 2-3) now faces back-to-back games against ranked conference rivals: No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 1 Louisville.
The Hoyas started poorly, coughing up three turnovers and hitting just one basket while South Florida (10-7, 1-4) made four. But Jabril Trawick drove for a layup that gave the Hoyas their first lead. A dunk by Lubick capped a 9-0 Georgetown run, making it 14-10.
With Smith-Rivera hitting from long range, the Hoyas closed the first half on an 8-3 run to take a 31-23 halftime lead. Smith-Rivera accounted for 11 of Georgetown’s first-half points, going 4 of 4 from the field while grabbing three rebounds.
Georgetown shot 60 percent in the first half while holding the Bulls to 31 percent. South Florida hit just one of its 14 attempts from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes.
The momentum shifted wildly at the start of the second half. A trio of three-pointers rallied the crowd of 6,189 and pulled the Bulls within 34-32. Thompson called a timeout.
But it kept raining three-pointers at the Bulls’ end of the court. And at the opposite end, it seemed as if Porter, who was getting elbowed, hammered and knocked to the floor, was the only offensive player in blue.