NEW YORK (AP) — After coughing up a big lead in the middle of the game, Otto Porter Jr. and his Georgetown teammates showed off all the attributes that make them a championship threat this March.
Porter scored 18 points and the fifth-ranked Hoyas advanced to the Big East tournament semifinals by pulling away from Cincinnati for a 62-43 victory Thursday.
"I want to say the first three, four possessions of the second half, we looked extremely flat. But then we turned it up at the defensive end. We started getting stops, which then helped our offense," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "For the most part, this group doesn't get rattled."
Markel Starks had 14 points and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera added 13 off the bench, including a tiebreaking 3-pointer that sparked a game-turning run for the top-seeded Hoyas (25-5). They will play Friday night against 19th-ranked and fifth-seeded Syracuse, a 62-59 winner over Pittsburgh, in a marquee matchup of original Big East heavyweights.
Georgetown swept its longtime rival in two games this season, including a 61-39 blowout last Saturday.
Looking to land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Hoyas squandered an early 16-point cushion against Cincinnati and fell behind briefly in the second half before clamping down with their signature defense.
"They have very, very good players, and the first half we were letting them get open shots," Thompson said. "In the second half, I think we were much more attentive."
Georgetown, looking for its first title since 2007, improved to 15-1 as the top seed in the Big East tournament. The only loss came against West Virginia in the 2010 championship game.
Porter, the Big East Player of the Year, made all 11 of his free throws — most of them in the final minutes — to offset a 3-for-9 performance from the field.
"All the attention Otto is getting is well-deserved, but at the same time, knowing that going into games that he's going to have that attention, we have to step up," Starks said. "We don't just say, hey, it's just Otto. No, we play as a team. We play as a unit. We're going to continue to do that, and we will continue to get better."
Cashmere Wright scored 14 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range to lead the ninth-seeded Bearcats (22-11), but running mate Sean Kilpatrick was off his game. The team's top scorer at 17 points per game, he managed only four on 2-for-12 shooting and missed all eight of his tries from beyond the arc.
Cincinnati committed 15 turnovers and went 14 for 38 from the floor (37 percent).
"We just really struggled on offense," coach Mick Cronin said. "Tough to win when you can't get the ball in the basket."
After losing six of their last nine regular-season games, the Bearcats dispatched Providence 61-44 in their tournament opener Wednesday. Despite the shaky finish, Cronin is confident his team has done enough to cement a spot in the NCAAs.
"I don't know how anybody could question that," he said.
JaQuon Parker had 12 points for Cincinnati, which lost to Louisville in last year's Big East final.
Sitting behind the scorer's table, next to his son's bench, was former Georgetown coach John Thompson — a rather large reminder that the Hoyas are tied with Connecticut for the most Big East tournament championships (seven). They won the first one 33 years ago in Providence behind Eric "Sleepy" Floyd and Craig Shelton, and would love to close this era with one more to bring it all full circle.
Georgetown is one of seven basketball-centric Catholic schools breaking away from the conference to create their own league, which will begin play next season and retain the Big East name. Several other member institutions are headed to the ACC, and Rutgers leaves for the Big Ten in 2014-15.
"The whole thing is tragic," Cronin said. "Nobody cares about student athletes. All anybody cares about is money. Everybody in the NCAA, in college administration, they talk about academics and student athletes. If people cared about student athletes, West Virginia wouldn't be in the Big 12 with 10 teams flying 800 miles to their closest home game. That's really conducive to studying. The whole thing is a hypocrisy. ... The money has ruined it. If I was a fan, I'd be very disenchanted."
The game was a rematch of a tightly contested Big East quarterfinal last year, won by Cincinnati 72-70 in double overtime. But the Hoyas had control most of the way this time and secured their 13th victory in 14 games.
Cincinnati climbed out of a huge deficit and opened the second half with a 9-2 spurt to take a 33-31 lead, its first since the first few minutes. Nate Lubick beat the shot clock with a baseline hook to tie it, and then Georgetown took over again behind Smith-Rivera.
The freshman guard stroked a 3-pointer and a pull-up jumper during a 22-6 run that included him sneaking underneath for a nifty putback. Two free throws by Porter capped the surge and gave the Hoyas a 53-39 lead with 3:30 to go.
"I never really lost any confidence in my game," Smith-Rivera said. "It's just understanding what my role is on the team and understanding the concept of our offense. Once I started to get comfortable with it, I think everything started to roll from there."
Cincinnati center Cheikh Mbodj went to the bench after getting whistled for his second foul with 10:59 remaining in the first half, and Cronin drew a technical for protesting after Kilpatrick was called for a personal with 8:27 to go.
Georgetown made three of four free throws, and when Smith-Rivera followed Porter's 3 with one of his own, the Hoyas suddenly had a 24-8 cushion.
But the Bearcats called timeout and got back in the game with some sharp outside shooting.
Wright drained consecutive 3s, Parker added another and Kilpatrick hit a jumper. When Wright connected on his third straight attempt from long range, the deficit was down to seven with 1:02 remaining. Mbodj made two free throws and the Hoyas went into halftime with a 29-24 advantage.