- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 2007

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Georgetown sapped Belmont’s upset bid with an unlikely uprising from its high-strung sophomore.

The 15th-seeded Bruins took a look at Georgetown’s statistics and came up with a logical gameplan against the heavily favored Hoyas — run wave after wave of bodies at Georgetown junior giants Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green, deny point man Jon Wallace open looks from the perimeter and funnel the ball toward unheralded sophomore Jessie Sapp.

Sapp entered yesterday’s opening round NCAA tournament game shooting just 28.2 percent from 3-point range and mired in a 1-for-23 slump from behind the arc in his past six games.

In theory, it was a solid upset formula. In reality, Sapp was ready to prove it wrong.

The 6-foot-3 guard from Harlem did his best Chris Paul imitation yesterday at Joel Coliseum, nailing four 3-pointers and scoring a career-high 20 points on the Bruins to lead Georgetown to a convincing 80-55 opening statement.

“I rubbed his hands before the game, and that got him going,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said as a joke after Sapp propelled the second-seeded Hoyas (27-6) to a second-round date with Boston College tomorrow afternoon. “[Jessie] hasn’t been one of our primary scorers, but I have confidence in him, and so do his teammates. Opportunities presented themselves for him today, and he was ready willing and able to take advantage.”

A year ago, Sapp almost missed Georgetown’s run to the Sweet 16 when his 13-year-old sister was accidentally hit by a stray bullet in a Harlem playground. She recovered, and Sapp accompanied the Hoyas to the Minneapolis regional, where they lost to eventual national champion Florida. But concentrating on the games was understandably impossible for the freshman reserve.

This season, both Sapp’s role and his focus are decidedly different.

“Last year is a little like a blur, but I’m determined to be as strong for my teammates this year at the NCAAs as they were strong for me last year,” Sapp said. “Today feels so good.”

Both Belmont’s gameplan and its early success yesterday conspired to help Sapp find his feel-good stroke. Playing with considerably more energy than the Hoyas during the game’s opening four minutes, the Bruins (23-10) jumped to an 11-4 lead and briefly teased the Tar Heels-centric crowd into cheering for the underdogs from the Atlantic Sun.

Though the scoreboard didn’t reflect the tempo, the game’s early pace was somewhat quicker than Georgetown’s patient standard. Green, Hibbert and Wallace struggled somewhat to adjust. But not Sapp, a guard who came to Georgetown with a reputation as a transition dynamo at his best amid free-form chaos.

“I have to admit that I like to play fast, in the open court, and sometimes in our halfcourt sets I rush things,” said Sapp, who entered the game averaging just 8.7 points. “I think today’s fast pace helped my find my rhythm. It got me energized.”

Georgetown took its first lead at 13-11 on a layup from Green (15 points) with 11:16 remaining in the half and seemed primed to bury the Bruins behind the Big East MVP. But in a first half that was defined by stilted play, Green picked up his second foul on Belmont’s next possession and reported to the bench for the remainder of the half.

Enter Sapp. Shocking everyone in the building — nobody more than Belmont coach Rick Byrd — Sapp took over in Green’s absence. The sophomore guard scored 11 of Georgetown’s next 17 points, staking the Hoyas to a 30-18 advantage when he drilled his third 3-pointer of the half with 5:03 remaining.

“He sure didn’t look like a 28 percent 3-point shooter to me,” Byrd said. “I guess that’s a testament to their depth and balance. You try and isolate what you think is their most suspect offensive weapon, and he drops 20 on you.”

And Sapp didn’t post his career day by hogging shots. He attempted just 10 field goals on the day, making eight while adding six rebounds and three steals.

“Jessie was huge today, particularly in the first half when we were struggling,” Green said. “He kept us in the game early with his energy while we were settling down and then never let up in the second half once me and Roy got it going.”

After Sapp sent the Hoyas to intermission with a 38-25 lead, Hibbert and Green emerged from first-half foul trouble to deliver the knockout blow. Hibbert (10 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, three blocks) and Green combined to score 14 of the team’s first 17 points after the break as the Hoyas marched out to a 55-31 edge with 11:57 remaining.

Aside from Sapp’s play and the improved frontcourt play in the second half, Georgetown’s defensive effort was exemplary. Belmont entered the game as a dangerous 3-point shooting team but finished just 6-for-26 thanks to the Hoyas’ extended defense.

“I know the percentage looks bad, but most of those weren’t very good looks,” Byrd said. “They never let us get our feet set, and that’s a credit to their defense. We’re a pretty good shooting team, and Georgetown made us look pretty bad.”

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