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Georgetown basketball faces tough task at Notre Dame in trying to rebound from loss to South Florida

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Georgetown’s second-half collapse against South Florida on Saturday highlighted the essential vulnerability of a young Hoyas squad that has yet to grasp the peril of taking a lead for granted in the bruising Big East.

After the 61-58 defeat to the Bulls, who had yet to win a conference game, the Hoyas’ education in what’s required to contend in the Big East shifts from Tampa to chilly South Bend., Ind., where No. 20 Notre Dame has won 47 of its last 49 home games.

Effort and consistency were among the themes Coach John Thompson III struck in reviewing the loss at South Florida when the team met Sunday morning.

“This group needs to understand that they have to be good every night,” Thompson said in a telephone interview. “It can’t be good one night and not the next, particularly when you’re a man down.”

Thompson wouldn’t elaborate on the status of sophomore forward Greg Whittington, sidelined by eligibility issues since the second semester began. But the long arms of the 6-foot-8 Whittington were missed Saturday amid the barrage of three-pointers (seven in less than 10 minutes) that South Florida unleashed to reclaim the lead for good.

Regardless of Whittington’s status, Georgetown (12-4, 2-3) doesn’t have great front-court depth.

Sophomore center Mikael Hopkins is prone to quick fouls. And neither he nor reserve Moses Ayegba, who combined for no points, rebounds and one assist Saturday, has made strides toward filling the playmaking role that the Hoyas’ offense calls for at the position.

Junior guard Markel Starks had an off-shooting night (1 of 8), and it seemed to drag down his performance on defense, as well.

While turnovers were a problem (the Hoyas committed 15 to South Florida’s five), Georgetown’s failure to press on defense made the Bulls’ comeback possible.

Bulls Coach Stan Heath conceded that his team struggled against Georgetown’s zone in the first half but pointed with pride to a second-half rally in which South Florida shot 50 percent from the field, 54 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line.

Given two chances to win the game coming out of timeouts with 26 and 12 seconds remaining, the Hoyas couldn’t get one play off and lost the ball on the other.

Now comes No. 20 Notre Dame (15-3, 3-2), which is well-positioned to take advantage of the vulnerabilities Georgetown displayed in Tampa. The Irish are an experienced, balanced team anchored by 6-9 senior Jack Cooley, who leads the Big East in rebounding (10.7 per game) and field goal percentage (60.8 percent). And they boast three-point threats at nearly every position. Led by Scott Martin, 47.7 percent from long range, the Irish average seven three-pointers per game.

“We have to bounce back from it,” Thompson said of the South Florida loss. “Life in the Big East going to be even more up and down. Hopefully, we learn. We won’t make the same mistakes again.”

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