Coach John Thompson had seen enough.
Charles Smith, his All-American senior guard, was not playing well Sunday against Notre Dame in the second round of the East regionals of National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament.
Smith was playing tentatively after Friday night’s surprisingly close game against Princeton when he scored four points and made two of 12 shots.
So, Thompson told Smith to take over the offense, and Smith complied by scoring 28 of his game-high 34 points after the top-seeded Hoyas trailed by four at halftime.
As a result, No. 2-ranked Georgetown won, 81-74.
“Sometimes Smitty gets caught up in the company line about being the consummate team player and trying to share the ball,” Thompson said. “But after Friday’s game, and again today, I had to remind him that we’re better when he’s not so democratic.
“It’s hard to re-program him after he started here (Georgetown) as a defensive specialist, but I’d rather see him make mistakes trying to make things happen offensively than feeling his way. He needs to take more shots and attack the basket for us to win.”
This game was expected to be a showdown between super freshmen centers Alonzo Mourning of Georgetown and LaPhonso Ellis of Notre Dame. But they were upstaged by Smith, who scored 19 points in the first 11 minutes of the second half to provide a 64-57 Hoya lead after Notre Dame had held a 36-32 halftime advantage.
“In the second half, I looked in Smitty’s eyes and saw that spark again,” Thompson said. “It was like a Phoenix rising out of the ashes. I said to myself, ‘He’s back, thank God.’ ”
Despite Smith’s performance, the Irish, without a senior on their roster and relying heavily on Ellis (18 points, 10 rebounds ), continued to battle.
A jump shot by sophomore guard Tim Singleton pulled Notre Dame to within two points at 68-66 with five minutes remaining.
But the Irish went scoreless in the next four minutes, and Smith made a baseline drive and added a free throw for a 75-66 lead.
There was a great sense of relief by Thompson, who saw order restored against Notre Dame after the 50-49 escape against 16th-seeded Princeton.
The Hoyas shot a school-record 71% from the field Sunday, including 14 of 16 in the second half.
“The Princeton game took a lot out of us emotionally,” Thompson said. “But today, once Smitty got it going, we were a whole different team. He not only had a great individual game, but his ability to penetrate also opened up things inside for Alonzo Mourning.”
Mourning, who saved the Hoyas against Princeton with his clutch points and blocked shots, made a more modest contribution of 17 points, four rebounds and three blocks. But Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps credited him with making the crucial play in the second half.
The Irish were clinging to a 57-55 lead at the 10-minute mark when Mourning made a spin move to beat Ellis on the baseline. He made the basket and added a free throw, and Georgetown (28-4) never relinquished the lead.
“I thought Ellis got hooked by Mourning on that play,” Phelps said. “But we didn’t get the call, and the momentum swung to Georgetown.”
Phelps, however, acknowledged that it was the team’s inability to control Smith’s darting moves to the basket and long-range shooting that ultimately eliminated the Irish.
“As Charles Smith goes, so goes Georgetown,” Phelps said. “Today, he took charge when it counted. We had Jamere Jackson on him, and then we tried Tim Singleton, but he’s just too quick. We didn’t stay off him enough defensively to force him to beat us from outside.”