CHICAGO — On the one-year anniversary of one of the most embarrassing defeats in program history, the Georgetown men’s basketball team turned in a repeat performance. The Hoyas, who were ranked No. 9 in the nation little more than three months ago, fell Friday night to the team that finished fourth this season in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Georgetown was outworked, out-executed and outsmarted for nearly the entire night, and the final score of its first game in the 2011 NCAA tournament reflected as much: Virginia Commonwealth 74, Hoyas 56.
“They outplayed us,” senior guard Chris Wright said. “They shot the ball well, and they beat us.”
Coach John Thompson III’s teams have been brief guests in the NCAA tournament since Georgetown advanced to the Final Four in 2007. Since then, the Hoyas have won one NCAA tournament game – against No. 15 seed UMBC in 2008 – and have been upset by double-digit seeds three times. Georgetown also lost in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament in 2009.
“I think that once the season is over, you know, as a coach, as the head of a program, you go through introspection, and we’ll take time, and I’ll do that,” Thompson said when asked whether he could put his finger on what has led to Georgetown’s recent postseason struggles. “A lot will be discussed about this group and what they have and haven’t done in the postseason. We’ll evaluate that.”
VCU (25-11) shot 48 percent (12 for 25) from three-point range on the night. VCU guard Joey Rodriguez — all 5 feet 10 of him — finished with 17 points and seven assists, but it was reserve guard Brandon Rozzell who made 6 of 10 three-pointers and tallied a game-high 26 points.
This was not a matter of the Hoyas (21-11) taking their opponent lightly. They learned that lesson last year when they were knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the first round by Ohio of the Mid-American Conference. Georgetown shot 56.5 percent from three-point range that night — March 18, 2010 — but the Hoyas recorded 18 turnovers, which expedited their demise.
Georgetown players swore in recent days that they were a more focused bunch this time around, and in the team huddle before they took the court Friday night, the Hoyas were reminded one final time by Wright that “this [is] our championship right here.”
Wright’s return to the lineup was expected to provide Georgetown a boost on the heels of a four-game losing streak. Wright broke a bone in his left (non-shooting) hand Feb. 23 and had not played since.
He shot 3 of 13 from the field on Friday and finished with six points. The only visible sign of his injury was his insistence on dribbling almost exclusively with his right hand. Still, Wright’s energetic presence was not as contagious as the Hoyas had hoped.
With its season hanging in the balance, Georgetown shot 39.2 percent from the field and registered 17 turnovers. Reserve forward Hollis Thompson scored a team-high 24 points.
Georgetown might be known for its preference to control the tempo and operate at a methodical pace, but the Hoyas had proven capable on several occasions this season of keeping up with opponents who liked to run the floor.
Georgetown defeated Missouri in overtime in late November and won at Memphis nearly a month later. Missouri and Memphis share three things in common: A mascot (Tigers), an optimal pace (fast) and a postseason destination (NCAA tournament).
But in those two victories the Hoyas made more than 55 percent of their shots from the field and shot better than 45 percent from three-point range.
Against VCU’s pressure defense — which the Rams describe as “havoc” — in the first half Friday, Georgetown shot 36 percent from the field and made 1 of 12 three-point attempts. The Hoyas also tallied nine turnovers and 11 personal fouls before the break.
“They knew us really well, and they knew what they wanted to do,” said senior forward Julian Vaughn, who finished with 2 points, 8 rebounds and 4 turnovers. “They played well, man. We lost again, but they played well.”
When asked whether he was surprised at all that his team so thoroughly had dominated Georgetown from start to finish, second-year VCU Coach Shaka Smart replied: “No.”
The Rams shared scoring responsibilities fairly evenly, and their effectiveness wasn’t bothered by Georgetown alternating between a 2-3 zone and man-to-man defense.
With just more than nine minutes remaining in the game, the ball appeared to have bounced off the leg of VCU forward Juvonte Reddic and out of bounds. But when the referees awarded possession to the Rams, Wright flailed his arms and screamed his disagreement.
Wright was assessed a technical foul, and after Rodriguez made both ensuing free throws, Thompson approached the referee responsible for the call. It was no use, though. John Thompson III turned away after exchanging a few words, and all he could do was shake his head.
“Stating the obvious, it’s easy to compare” Friday’s loss to the one Georgetown suffered last year against Ohio, Thompson said. “It’s the first round and a difficult loss. It hurts.”