Porter hands loss to struggling Knights
WASHINGTON, D.C. — For all of his prowess — 28 points, eight rebounds, four steals and three blocks — Otto Porter’s loudest ovation came when he finally sat down.
The Georgetown forward was so effective Saturday at the Verizon Center that his first break came with 23.2 seconds left, a 64-51 Hoyas victory well in hand.
“I don’t know if anybody in this room could have predicted what he is right now,” said Rutgers head men’s basketball coach Mike Rice, whose team lost its 10th game in 11 tries. “It’s not close who the Big East Player of the Year is right now. If he keeps continuing, it’s not even close for National Player of the Year.”
Porter went to the free throw line like it, making 18 trips and converting 15 of them, the first Hoya since 2003 with that distinction. The Scarlet Knights, meanwhile, took only 15 free throws as a team.
Thirty-one team fouls for the Knights (13-14, 4-12) led to 42 Georgetown (23-4, 13-3) free throws and nearly 47 percent of the Hoyas’ total points. In a meeting last season in Washington, D.C., Rutgers recorded 29 team fouls as Georgetown shot 25-for-36 from the free throw line.
The Knights went 4-for-7 from the line in that game.
This time, Porter was at the heart of the disparity.
The potential NBA Lottery pick was fouled at the 3-point line, in the low post and nearly everywhere in between. In his last three games, Porter has averaged 27.6 points, seven rebounds and a 58-percent mark from the field, increasing his national visibility with every highlight-reel play.
Rice could not deny the impact of Porter’s ascent on split-second foul calls.
“I’m sure [the referees] know who Otto Porter is,” Rice said. “We didn’t have an answer. We haven’t had an answer the last three times we’ve played Otto Porter.”
Rice’s switching defense did not help.
His scheme, in which players Nos. 1-4 switch man-to-man responsibilities, often left Porter matched up in the paint against smallish guards. Then again, Porter proved capable in open space against Rutgers’ big men, driving past senior forward Austin Johnson for a reverse lay-in, widening Georgetown’s second-half lead to 10.
“He did it to everybody,” Rice said. “He got everybody to foul him. We get so anxious and uptight when he’s around us. Make him make a shot. We put him on the line that many times, he’s going to kill you.”
The Knights’ offense was less effective.
It never looked comfortable against Georgetown’s man and zone looks, and senior wing Dane Miller said the team “took like three 3-pointers from halfcourt.”
Rutgers shot 37 percent from the field, and only junior forward Wally Judge scored in double figures.
“We go into points where we can’t make a shot,” Judge said. “At times, that rushes us. Everybody’s looking to make the next shot for the team. You see them not falling, and it’s kind of contagious.”
It has been that type of season for the Knights, whose four conference wins have come by an average of three points. Rice’s motion offense has had its issues, but a larger psyche problem remains.
It can happen when a team loses eight Big East games, including three of its last four, by 10 points or less.
“Every time we miss a free throw, every time we miss a putback, every time we go soft,” Rice said, “it takes away some of that passion and energy you have to have to defend Otto Porter and Georgetown.”
Rice lamented stretches in Big East play when higher-ranked opponents had noticeably longer preparation time for the Knights. He does not have an argument this time.
Rutgers last played a week earlier, while Georgetown came in off of a double-overtime game Wednesday.
Associate head coach David Cox spent three seasons under Hoyas head coach John Thompson III, and Rice said the team knew how Thompson would get Porter involved.
Porter showed few ill effects for Rutgers’ planning. His stat line was one of many things the Knights did not plan for.
“We didn’t know we were going to send him to the free throw line 18 times and he was going to make 15 of them,” Miller said. “It was a tough game for us. Every time we basically put our hands on him, they called a foul.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.