NEW YORK (AP) — Georgetown coach John Thompson III has a remarkable knack for making a difficult game sound simple.
Take, for instance, his approach to guarding Dominique Jones. The South Florida star ripped apart the Hoyas the last time the two teams met, and was coming off an impressive performance that helped his team reach the second round of the Big East tournament.
“I just yelled at the guys, ‘Guard him!'” Thompson said, grinning.
They sure listened, and didn’t stop with the league’s second-leading scorer. The No. 22 Hoyas frustrated South Florida all over the court in a 69-49 second-round victory Wednesday, propelling them into a marquee matchup with regular-season champion Syracuse.
Jason Clark and Greg Monroe scored 16 points each Georgetown (21-9), which held the Bulls to a season-low 29.1 percent from the field — pretty decent even by Thompson’s stringent standards. It was the second straight game and fifth time this season that an opponent failed to break 50 against the Hoyas’ numbing defense.
“We really struggled to find a shot,” South Florida coach Stan Heath said. “It happened yesterday and today it really caught up to us, not being able to hit a perimeter jumpshot.”
Chris Wright added 15 points for the eighth-seeded Hoyas (21-9), who won a tournament game for the first time in two years. They were likely already in the NCAA tournament but now have the chance to improve their seeding with a deep run at Madison Square Garden.
The matchup with No. 3 Syracuse on Thursday is a tantalizing one. The Big East heavyweights have split 12 meetings in the tournament, although the Orange won both games in the regular season.
“They’re a good team, they can beat you so many ways,” Thompson said. “They’re long, they have a terrific defense, so we just need to come out and execute at both ends of the floor.”
If they execute anything like they did on the defensive end against South Florida, Thompson has to figure the Hoyas have a chance.
Georgetown built a 14-point first-half lead relying almost entirely on defense, holding the Bulls without a field goal for nearly 8 minutes. Jones seemed to be especially frustrated, unable to create any open looks.
The league’s second-leading scorer finally started hitting late in the first half, helping get South Florida within 44-36 with about 13 minutes left in the game. At one point over an 18-minute stretch spanning both halves, Jones scored or had an assist on each of his team’s field goals.
He finished with 21 points, but was unable to keep up the pace in the closing minutes. The Hoyas answered his push behind a pair of baskets from Wright and a deep jumper by Austin Freeman.
“I just feel like we had open shots and we missed ’em — I missed ’em — and you can’t beat a Top 25 team, a Big East team, missing shots,” Jones said. “It’s hard to beat times like that when you’re not hitting shots from the outside.”
Even when the Hoyas’ only legitimate inside threat, Julian Vaughn, fouled out with about 9 minutes remaining, the Bulls couldn’t sustain a run. The lead swelled to 20 as a small contingent of sleepy fans began chanting “Let’s Go Hoyas” — no doubt unaccustomed to the early start that comes with being a high seed in the Big East tournament.
Vaughn may have been happy to take a seat on the bench even with plenty of time left.
After a timeout in the first half, the 6-foot-9 junior walked over to a bucket sitting courtside and promptly vomited. Vaughn didn’t even bother to get a drink of water, wiping his face on his jersey and heading back onto the court moments later.
The Bulls may have a similar uneasiness in the pit of their stomach as they wait to hear whether 20 wins playing in one of the toughest conferences in the country gets them in the NCAA tournament.