DAYTON, Ohio - John Thompson hugged the 7-foot-2 center who had just led Georgetown to another first-round NCAA tournament win, energetically slapping his broad back.
How many times has this happened?
A lot, but not lately.
Roy Hibbert scored 17 points Friday, and seventh-seeded Georgetown relied on its clampdown defense for a 54-49 victory over Northern Iowa — the Hoyas’ first NCAA victory in five years. It also gave the Big East its first NCAA Tournament win after going 0-3 on Thursday. West Virginia and Villanova would also win on Friday.
“The first game, I think we got the jitters out,” said Ashanti Cook, who had two free throws and a clinching dunk in the closing seconds. “Now it’s time to play basketball. We’re not here to participate, we’re here to win the whole thing.”
The Hoyas (22-9) will play second-seeded Ohio State on Sunday. The Buckeyes beat Davidson 70-62 in their opener, and coach Thad Matta did a little courtside scouting in the second game.
He spent a lot of time looking up.
No. 10 seed Northern Iowa (23-10) had no one to match up with Hibbert, who got the Hoyas back to winning on the stage they once dominated. Hibbert went 8-of-10 from the field and had nine rebounds before fouling out with 1:11 to go.
He also set the tone inside on defense — the Panthers opened the second half in a 2-of-18 shooting slump against the Big East’s stingiest defense.
“I have to be aggressive all the time, but I’ve got to make sure I make smart plays,” Hibbert said. “People double- and triple-team me, and I need to look for the open shooter.”
For Georgetown, this victory amounted to a homecoming. The Hoyas won the NCAA title in 1984 under Thompson, who took the Hoyas to three Final Four appearances during a four-year span.
Georgetown hadn’t won 20 games or made a tournament appearance since 2001. Thompson’s son, John III, took over last season and got the Hoyas turned around.
With proud Papa Thompson courtside doing radio commentary, the Hoyas won as they did in the old days — with a big man and a big defense.
Hibbert orchestrated the offense, waving the ball in one hand high above the Panthers’ heads while he looked around for an open shooter — something Patrick Ewing did back in the days when Hoya Paranoia swept through college basketball.
Afterward, the center and the son both got hugs.
“It’s special to have Pops around, whether it’s the NCAA tournament or the first game of the season or a preseason scrimmage,” the son said. “It’s good to have him around, and hopefully he’ll get a chance to congratulate me, before my career is over, on a lot more NCAA wins.”
After trailing for most of the first half, Georgetown fed off Hibbert’s play and went ahead to stay on Jessie Sapp’s 3-pointer that made it 37-34 with 12:38 to go. Georgetown pushed the lead to as many as six points, then held on.
Ben Jacobson’s 3-pointer cut it to 50-47 with 13 seconds left, but Cook made a pair of free throws and a fast-break dunk to finish it off.
A hot shooter got the Hoyas on their heels in the first half.
Senior guard John Little made all of his five shots, four of them from behind the arc. His fourth 3-pointer set a career high and put Northern Iowa up 27-20 late in the half.
The Hoyas clamped down on him in the second half, holding him to 1-for-4 shooting and 17 points overall. And, none of the Panthers could prevent Hibbert from taking over.
“He’s a big factor,” Little said. “He’s a huge guy and takes up a lot of space in the paint. As guards, we wanted to come down there and dig in, but he’s a factor in there. He’s a big part of what they do.”
Hibbert was the Hoyas’ only constant in the half, repeatedly scoring inside. He asserted himself at the start of the second half, scoring on a putback and a drive to the basket that tied it at 30.
At that point, Northern Iowa could sense that the momentum had shifted. The Panthers know all about that lately.
From their first day of practice, the Panthers had one goal: Win a game in the NCAA tournament. The Panthers had made the tournament each of the past two years and lost in the first round, so just getting there was no longer satisfying.
Northern Iowa tied the school record with 23 wins this season, but headed into the tournament in a 2-5 slump that carried over. All three of those NCAA losses have been by five points or less.
“We’ve been really close three times, and today it was different,” said Jacobson, who had 14 points. “We have come out sluggish the last two years, but today we came out fast and got a lead but we were unable to hold it.”
There was one big reason why.
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