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SNYDER: Hoyas’ Sims, Clark enjoyed all the comforts of home for one last time

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION

Senior Night at Verizon Center provided another glimpse of Georgetown's bright future. Freshman Greg Whittington led all scorers Monday with a career-high 15 points, and freshman Otto Porter snared a team-high 10 rebounds in a 59-41 rout of Notre Dame.

But center Henry Sims and guard Jason Clark, playing their final home game as Hoyas, also left the crowd with lasting impressions. Just like they've done all season, leading 10 sophomores and freshmen on their surprising team, Sims and Clark produced the steady and heady performances that make Georgetown dangerous when everything clicks.

We've come to take Sims and Clark for granted over the course of this season, with No. 8 Marquette up next before the Big East tournament begins next week. A victory Saturday would give Georgetown a double-bye in New York, unimaginable back in November when Sims was an unknown quantity and Clark was thought to have insufficient help.

But by the time they were introduced Monday night, surrounded by family and soaking in applause during a pregame ceremony, Sims and Clark had established themselves as the unquestioned leaders of No. 11 Georgetown. They proved it once again in the Hoyas' second consecutive blowout since a crushing loss at Seton Hall last week.

Clark buried a 3-pointer on his team's opening possession, and he closed first-half scoring with a jumper for Georgetown's largest lead, 28-18. His defense on the perimeter was a major factor in the Irish shooting just 3-for-17 from the arc. He also grabbed six rebounds, more than any Notre Dame player except Pat Connaughton (11).

It was another tidy, efficient outing for Clark (13 points), a starter in every game since his sophomore season. Even though he has evolved into the Hoyas' leading scorer, he's judicious in picking his spots. After Villanova was thumped 67-46 on Saturday, Wildcats coach Jay Wright said Clark could score 30 per game if he wasn't so intent on leading his team and setting a good example.

But the most impressive player to Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was Sims, who had 12 points, six rebounds and five assists against the Irish.

"They were hard to defend man-to-man tonight," Brey said after the Hoyas shot 52 percent from the floor. "Sims is so good with the ball. That's a unique team that he's the lead assist guy. I've really never seen anything like that. They really play well off him."

Sims entered the season with career averages of 2.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 0.6 assists per game. But through rededication, hard work and prime minutes, he has improved those numbers to 11.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and a team-high 3.5 assists.

He put on the full display Monday, finding Clark for a back-door layup from the high post and hitting Whittington for a give-and-go dunk from the low post. In between, he showed off his assortment of baby hooks, mid-range jumpers and baseline drives.

"That's what Henry has done all year," coach John Thompson III said. "That's what we need him to do, finding the balance between when it's his turn to score and when it's time to get his teammates a shot. For most of the year, with a few glaring exceptions, I think he's been very good at finding that balance."

Balance has been the key for Georgetown all season, particularly the past two games. Against Notre Dame, three Hoyas scored in double figures and four had at least a half-dozen rebounds. Against Villanova, four Hoyas scored in double figures and five had at least six rebounds.

More importantly, Georgetown held both opponents to woeful shooting percentages, 33 percent for the Irish and 28 percent for the Wildcats.

"I'm very impressed with them defensively," Brey said. "Their length and their size and their quickness bothered us. ... That may be the best defensive team we've played against this season."

Thompson puts much more emphasis on that aspect of Georgetown's game, opposed to the Hoyas' sweet ball movement, screens and cuts. "If we defend and we rebound, we'll score enough points to win," he said.

We've seen the last of Sims and Clark as Hoyas at Verizon Center, where they lost just once this season. Thompson isn't much for sentimentality with Marquette and tourneys looming, but he allowed himself a moment at the end of his postgame conference.

"Four years go by really fast," he said. "And in a couple of months they're going to graduate. Both of these guys, I think, are going to be playing basketball for a very long time. But this is the last time they get to do it in this building wearing Georgetown uniforms. It was a special day for them."

And a special season, so far, for everyone involved.

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