LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In the dead-silent room, John Thompson III mopped the sweat from his head with a towel.
The blur of sound and motion at KFC Yum! Arena was behind Georgetown’s coach: Darude’s “Digital Sandstorm” pulsating during a time out, the portly student wearing a threadbare Batman costume and a glum face, Louisville’s band shrieking “Sweet Caroline,” the man in press seats who muttered “Damn” after each Markel Starks 3-pointer, the empty bottle of Jim Beam hurled toward a referee as he rushed off the court.
None of that bothered Thompson’s band of youngsters Wednesday night, as No. 12 Georgetown opened Big East play with a 71-68 upset of fourth-ranked Louisville.
“These guys are players,” said Thompson, with as much excitement as, well, wiping perspiration from one’s head. “Age, class, maturation, all that stuff goes out the window. We’re just out there playing ball and trying to protect each other.”
Picked by conference coaches to finish 10th, this was expected to be a rebuilding season for Georgetown with 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster. But with the only blemish a four-point loss to Kansas in Hawaii, the only thing Georgetown expects to do is win.
There was Starks, the sophomore point guard, calmly delivering a career-high 20 points Wednesday. And four freshmen bringing 25 points and 22 rebounds off the bench with little indication they were playing in one of the conference’s toughest venues.
Outside the $238 million basketball palace, signs proclaimed this Possibility City. On this night, possibility belonged to Georgetown.
“Night in and night out, games are going to be like that,” Starks said. “We just had to be composed.”
Starks guided Georgetown through the frantic final minutes, including back-to-back 3-pointers with an emotionless face that boosted his team’s advantage to 10 points.
But Louisville, winner of 20 straight at home and off to its best start in 37 years, ratcheted up coach Rick Pitino’s nose-to-nose pressure. Every step, every inbounds play, every pass was met with a body as seconds drained away and timeouts delivered shouted curses at the referees and music thumping ever louder.
Georgetown struggled to inbound the ball, leading to a series of turnovers that propelled Louisville’s 11-0 run, along with acrobatic shots from point guard Peyton Siva.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of practice and we weren’t cohesive,” said Pitino, whose team faces Kentucky on Saturday. “I think we’ll get a lot better. I do think Georgetown was the better team tonight.”
When the game was tied at 63, one of the freshmen, Otto Porter, tipped in a basket, then hit four free throws down the stretch to ensure the victory. Porter finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds, but insisted he never thought about the 22,517 red-clad fans, insisted nothing floated through his mind as he hit each free throw.
The hard-nosed freshman guard Jabril Trawick added a career-best nine points, while fellow freshmen Greg Whittington and Mikael Hopkins provided crucial minutes. They helped Georgetown tightened its second-half defense to eliminate the first-half gaps that allowed Louisville a succession of open 3-pointers.
But this wasn’t a place to find wide-eyed wonder, not among a Georgetown team that has lost just once.
“This is what they’re supposed to do,” senior guard Jason Clark said of the youngsters.
Added Starks, in a matter-of-fact voice: “It’s just another game against a very good team. American (which Georgetown beat earlier this month) was a very good team, just like Louisville was a very good team.”
Then Starks allowed a smile.
“Happy holidays, everyone,” he said.
Thompson, on his way out of the room, shook his head and the coach, too, couldn’t stifle a grin.