- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2012

NEW YORK — Quiet filled the locker room.

Past ice packs and half-full bottles of fruit punch Gatorade and sleeves of bright orange crackers, Otto Porter reclined Wednesday afternoon. Near polished wood covered with New York Knicks logos, the Georgetown freshman spoke in a voice that could drown out a whisper.

Minutes earlier, Porter sent Madison Square Garden into an “Otto-matic” chanting frenzy and No. 13 Georgetown into the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament after beating Pittsburgh, 64-52.

“I was a little nervous,” Porter said. “But once the ball went up, that all went out of my system.”

Georgetown, seeded fifth, faces fourth-seeded Cincinnati at 2 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.

Not picked for the conference’s all-rookie team earlier in the week, the unassuming forward from Sikeston, Mo., responded on the court. The smooth, instinctive play that belies Porter’s youth thrust him into Georgetown’s starting lineup four games ago. And Wednesday against the Pittsburgh team that dealt Georgetown an ugly defeat in January, Porter couldn’t be stopped.

That didn’t surprise the freshman. He expected Pittsburgh’s defense to sell out to stop Georgetown’s leading scorers, senior Jason Clark and junior Hollis Thompson. That duo managed one field goal in 62 combined minutes. So, Porter believed the offensive burden belonged on his lanky 6-foot-8 frame.

“They were going to find me open the whole time,” said Porter, who finished with a career-high 20 points and six rebounds while leaving the game for a lone minute.

Porter may have been the only one who realized how open he would be. As Georgetown clung to a slender lead in the second half, Porter sank an open 3-pointer off an inbounds pass. That ignited a stretch in which he scored 14 of Georgetown’s 16 points and pushed the advantage into double digits.

Porter discovered a soft spot in the middle of Pittsburgh’s zone defense. And he realized he was in another kind of zone, one where even an off-balance put-back of his own miss rolled in the basket. That left Porter nodding his head, no loud words needed.

All week in practice, coach John Thompson III preached communication, having each other’s back. So, big man Henry Sims passed like a point guard, set up multiple Porter baskets among his five assists, and added 20 points and 13 rebounds of his own. That made certain the offensive absence of Clark and Thompson, who average a combined 27.3 points per game, didn’t matter.

The quiet locker room believed Porter belonged on the all-rookie team. Perhaps, Clark offered, Porter’s nine points per game handicapped him. But Porter is a glue guy, someone who stuffs a statistics sheet instead of demanding 15 or 20 shots per game. Georgetown’s sixth man much of the season, Porter showed he is much more.

“Unbelievable,” sophomore Markel Starks said of the performance.

In the locker room normally used by the Knicks and New York Rangers, Clark looked around. Travel bags spilled jerseys, high-tops scattered on the carpet, players tapped on cellphones. No one celebrated. It felt businesslike.

Clark remembers last year’s postseason fade, when Georgetown lost to Connecticut in the Big East tournament and VCU in the NCAA tournament. The fade was sudden and ugly.

And Clark believed Porter’s 20 points showed one reason this team is different.

“Every guy in this room can score the basketball when we need him to,” Clark said. “Any given night when my shots, Hollis‘ shots, Henry’s shots might not fall, there’s always going to be somebody else who’s going to step up.”

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