- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2012

NEW YORK — As the horn roared, the basketball bounced harmlessly off the back of the rim, Georgetown supporters in courtside seats and bespoke suits groaned and the hand-written “Simsanity” sign high in the stands at Madison Square Garden disappeared.

At the 3-point line, Henry Sims stared at the basket in disbelief. Everything Georgetown’s senior big man did Thursday afternoon seemed to work. Then came his final, awkward heave as the clock’s red numbers drained away.

Sims‘ second straight double-double, the layup to keep Georgetown alive and his struggle in the post with Cincinnati road-grader Yancy Gates all fell away like the desperate shot a step beyond the 3-point line. That was his first 3-point try this season.

All that mattered after two overtimes was Cincinnati 72, No. 13 Georgetown 70 in the Big East tournament’s quarterfinals.

“It would have been nice to make the last one, obviously,” Sims said, head bowed and voice low. “I’d much rather have the shot at the end.”

Before the untimely end, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound Sims hit running hook shots. He backed down the 6-foot-9, 260-pound Gates, looking more like a defensive end than a forward, and scored. Sims hit turnaround jump shots and reverse layups.

Three years of erratic play for the former top-100 recruit ended this season. The Big East tournament was an exclamation point, with two of his three career double-doubles. During one news conference, a reporter asked coach John Thompson III, in jest, who No. 14 was.

If they didn’t know the answer already, they did after Sims‘ long strides took him to the hoop for a layup that tied the game as time expired in the first overtime.

But Sims‘ 22 points, 15 rebounds and legion of opened eyes couldn’t overcome Georgetown’s missed free throws and critical turnovers. The self-inflicted mistakes frittered away a lead that ballooned to 11 points early in the second half.

“It’s unthinkable that we were able to dig it out,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said.

Unranked Cincinnati hit only 2 of 21 3-pointers. But 12 of Georgetown’s 14 turnovers came after the first half. Twice sophomore Markel Starks missed the front end of one-and-ones at the free throw line. Sims missed a pair of free throws in the first overtime.

At the same time, Cincinnati pounded the ball inside to Gates. He bulled past Sims with unusual agility for someone so large and, at the end of the second half, scored 10 straight points. Gates finished with 23 points and left Cronin looking like a proud parent.

Georgetown’s mistakes, small at first, piled up until, finally, reserve junior Cashmere Wright blew past senior Jason Clark in the second overtime. He sliced down the lane, free of Georgetown defenders guarding against a kick-out pass for a 3-pointer, and bounced in the layup.

Seven point six seconds remained. A frantic, off-kilter final possession by Georgetown ended with Sims‘ errant 3-pointer.

Deep inside the arena afterward, Thompson rubbed his face. He looked drained.

“We had some very …” Thompson said, then paused a few seconds as if to digest what occurred, “untimely turnovers at key junctures. They got some second shots at key junctures, and I think that’s why we ended up coming in here second and they came in here first.”

Sure, Georgetown will be awarded a No. 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA tournament come Sunday. But Sims‘ look after the final shot that didn’t go in Thursday lingered. A good feeling, bounced away.

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