When reporters asked John Thompson III on Friday afternoon about Otto Porter's chances of winning Big East player of the year, the typically circumpsect Georgetown coach gave an unusually strong response.
"I don't think it's close," he said.
There won't be much argument now, not after Porter's heroic performance Saturday at Syracuse in front of the largest crowd ever to watch an on-campus college basketball game. Porter sent more than 35,000 orange-clad fans home despondent by scoring a career-high 33 points to lead Georgetown to a 56-45 road victory over the rival Orange in the last meeting between the schools in Syracuse as members of the Big East.
What made Porter's performance especially impressive was that it came in a game when nobody else on either team was remotely effective on offense.
Porter sank 12 of 19 shots and 5 of 10 3-pointers, accounting for all but seven of his team's field goals and all but two of its makes from behind the arc. The rest of the cold-shooting Hoyas were a miserable 7 of 42 from the field against Syracuse's vaunted two-three zone, with guards Markel Starks and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera combining to make just 3 of 19 shots.
Syracuse was even less effective because the Orange didn't cope well when Georgetown gave them a taste of their own medicine by going to a two-three zone. Between 34 percent shooting from the field, 4 of 20 shooting from behind the arc and 16 turnovers, Syracuse had no chance of keeping pace with Porter's production.
Porter's career-best game elevates a Georgetown team that lost its first two Big East games of the season into first place in the league. The Hoyas (21-4, 11-3) have won 11 of their past 12 games to move a half game in front of Marquette and a full game ahead of Syracuse and Louisville in the race for the Big East title.
It's Porter's rise from overlooked recruit, to intriguing freshman, to future lottery pick that has ignited Georgetown's resurgence.
Because Porter grew up in rural Missouri playing pick-up games against his friends and family instead of making a name for himself on the AAU circuit, it took longer for college coaches and recruiting services to discover his talent. Georgetown landed Porter after a recruiting battle with Missouri and Kansas the spring of his senior year of high school.
Porter showed promise as a freshman in a complementary role last season, but he had to become a go-to threat this year with Hollis Thompson turning pro and Henry Sims and Jason Clark both graduating. Needless to say, Porter has delivered, averaging 15.1 points and 7.7 rebounds and looking the part of a future NBA small forward.
From pull-up jump shots and deep 3-pointers to transition layups and smooth drives to the rim, Porter showed off everything in his arsenal on Saturday.
His biggest shot was probably a four-point play that doubled Georgetown's lead with five minutes to go after he drew contact from Brandon Triche and sank a left-wing 3-pointer. He also showed off his length and defensive acumen, grabbing eight rebounds and tallying five steals.
It had to be especially galling for Syracuse that Porter's finest game came the same day the Orange honored the 2003 national title team and retired the jersey of former star Carmelo Anthony.
Not only did Syracuse lose to its rival, it was a guy named Otto who did the damage.