- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 17, 2009

Georgetown heads to No. 3 Duke on the crest of a sudden surge in depth.

The 13th-ranked Hoyas opened their brutal post-Christmas schedule stint Dec. 29 at then-No. 2 Connecticut with an obvious asterisk. All praise of Georgetown, even after a 74-63 victory against the Huskies in Hartford, came with a “but” clause.

Said ESPN’s Jay Bilas after calling a recent Georgetown game, “I really like the Hoyas’ starting five, but I have some real concerns about their bench.”

For good reason. Entering its stretch of five matchups against top-13 teams in six games, Georgetown’s bench was the least productive (in terms of points a minute) among the nation’s ranked teams.

Reserve issues reached a nadir in the team’s Big East home opener, when Georgetown’s bench contributed two points without a rebound in a 70-54 loss to then-No. 3 Pittsburgh. Perhaps the only thing more difficult than attempting to earn an NCAA tournament berth in a 16-team conference featuring eight ranked clubs and an 18-game schedule would be attempting it with no depth.

That no longer looks like the task at hand for a Georgetown team hoping to conclude its nasty six-game stretch with a victory Saturday at Duke (15-1). In the three games since the Pitt loss, the Hoyas’ reserves have begun to blossom. After averaging 5.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and fewer than one assist in 29 minutes against Memphis, Connecticut and Pitt, the bench has produced 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 51 minutes in the team’s past three games.

And the Georgetown reserves weren’t logging sympathy minutes in blowout time. In fact, they keyed the victories against the Friars and Orange.

Freshman substitutes Jason Clark and Henry Sims were on the floor in place of the team’s only two scholarship upperclassmen (senior Jessie Sapp and junior DaJuan Summers) during the five-minute second-half run that turned a two-point deficit into an 11-point lead in the Hoyas’ victory against Providence.

“We were wondering why we were on the bench for so long,” Sapp said. “But as we got the lead, we started cheering because that’s what we’re going to need from those guys to be successful for the rest of the season.”

Against Syracuse, Georgetown’s bench accounted for 29 points, nine rebounds and seven assists behind an 11-for-15 shooting effort.

“That’s how it should be,” Thompson said of his reserves’ performance against the Orange. “The discussion about the gap [between our first and second groups] was for last month. We have confidence in each other, and when you get in the game, you do what you’re supposed to do.”

Clark, a 6-foot-4 combo guard from Arlington, has looked relatively comfortable on the floor all season. Boasting an impressive grasp of the midrange game, Clark’s 22 combined points on 14 shots against Providence and Syracuse weren’t much of a surprise.

But Sims’ emergence for a frontcourt desperate for rebounding and defensive depth represents both a boon and a stunner, given the way the 6-10 Baltimore native began the season.

“Henry is playing with far more confidence right now,” Thompson said. “He’s growing up out there, and that’s big for him and us as a team.”

It’s critical for the team because some recruiting services ranked Sims nearly as high as freshman Greg Monroe (13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists). Though Sims has posted a combined eight points and five rebounds in the past two games, his presence changes Georgetown’s otherwise undersized look when he’s on the floor.

Sims likely won’t be much of a factor at Duke, which has won a nation-best 67 consecutive nonconference games at Cameron Indoor Stadium. But with Duke’s rebounding prowess (11th in the nation in rebounding margin) and the typically quicker ACC whistles, Monroe will need help inside.

“I’m pretty sure they’ll have something waiting for me when we get down there,” said Monroe, joking about the acerbic Duke student section. “I’m almost certain they’ll have something to say about me. … I’m kind of scared to walk in there almost.”

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