Washington • Lest there be any shred of a doubt whether coach John Thompson III is more concerned with offense or defense, a quick exchange during Georgetown’s postgame news conference made it quite clear.
A reporter asked senior center Henry Sims about having scored or assisted on 14 of Georgetown’s first 16 points at the start of the second half Saturday, leading the 16th-ranked Hoyas to an 81-55 victory over American.
“Can I say something before he answers this? And this is important,” Thompson said, stepping between Sims and the podium.
“He was best today — and I told him this in the locker room — at his communication on defense. The whole time, you heard Henry talking. And our defense got better in the second half because our talking got better. And he was, I thought, outstanding,” the coach explained. “I heard Henry’s voice calling screens, calling ‘switch,’ ‘watch this.’ And I think that’s what he did better than anything. Better than the points. Better than the passes.”
Well, that might very well be. And the 6-foot-10 Sims certainly was a key part of Georgetown’s holding AU to 41 percent shooting for the game.
Still, it’s hard to overlook what Sims did at the other end of the court, taking over early in the second half and finishing with 17 points and six assists. Sims assisted on back-door baskets on four consecutive possessions in the opening minutes after halftime as Georgetown (9-1) broke open a tight game en route to its seventh victory in a row.
Markel Starks led the Hoyas with 18 points, and Hollis Thompson added 15 points and eight rebounds — and one very key suggestion, according to his coach, who said the junior forward noted at halftime that the Hoyas should be making their backdoor cuts later in possessions.
“Teammates were cutting hard,” Sims said, “so my job was to give them the ball.”
Charles Hinkle scored 16 for American (8-4), which has followed an eight-game winning streak with two straight losses. Hinkle entered averaging 22.2 points.
“They were just paying a lot of attention to him,” AU coach Jeff Jones said. “They played Charles hard, and they weren’t going to let him beat them.”
Georgetown still has one more non-conference game before Big East play starts, hosting Memphis on Thursday, the second time this season those teams will face each other. The Hoyas won in overtime at the Maui Invitational last month.
This was the 52nd meeting between D.C. schools GU and AU, with the Hoyas holding a 44-8 edge, including the last eight.
AU had trouble with Georgetown’s typically stingy defense, and John Thompson kept ordering up different looks: man-to-man, zone, trap.
“Clearly, that was two very different halves. Georgetown came out in the second half and came right at us and obviously, we didn’t respond very well,” Jones said. “We didn’t have an answer.”
Missing its second-leading scorer, injured senior guard Troy Brewer, American began the game 5 for 16 on field-goal attempts, including 2 for 9 on 3-pointers. Brewer was replaced by junior Blake Jolivette, making his first start of the season.
Still, American kept the game close for most of the first half, pulling within 24-22 on Jolivette’s fallaway baseline jumper with about 2½ minutes left in the period. Georgetown moved out to leads of as many as eight points but Simon McCormack’s follow tip-in for AU right before the buzzer cut it to 32-26 at halftime.
But the Sims Show was yet to get started.
He had four points and zero assists as the second half began. But he passed to teammates on backdoor cuts over and over and over. First, he found Nate Lubick, then Starks, then Hollis Thompson, then Lubick again.
Sims kept coming, producing Georgetown’s next score with a hook from just outside the paint. A couple of possessions later, he threw down an alley-oop slam off a pass from Starks, then completed a fast break with a layup while getting fouled.
It was part of a change in strategy that resulted in Georgetown scoring 36 points in the paint in the second half, after getting only six that way before halftime.
Suddenly, Georgetown was ahead 48-35 with about 14½ minutes remaining, and the outcome was never again in any doubt.
“I think we may have worn them down a little bit,” John Thompson said, “which was good.”