By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 1, 2006
ROSEMONT, Ill., Jan. 31 -- So many times last season, the Georgetown men's basketball team started slowly in games and was forced to frantically play catch-up. But lately the 17th-ranked Hoyas have changed their approach; for the second straight game, they jumped ahead early and coasted to a victory. On Tuesday night, it was Big East newcomer DePaul that was left behind as Georgetown won, 64-44, in front of 9,258 at Allstate Arena.
The Hoyas (15-4), winners of five straight, are 6-2 in the Big East, which is their best conference start since the 1995-96 season, when they won seven of their first eight games.
The victory moved Georgetown into a tie for fourth place in the league with ninth-ranked Pittsburgh (17-2) -- its opponent at MCI Center on Sunday afternoon. The Hoyas are halfway through their conference schedule, and they find themselves trailing No. 11 West Virginia (6-0), No. 4 Villanova (7-1) and No. 1 Connecticut (7-1). The top four teams receive first-round byes in the conference tournament.
The Hoyas weren't as sharp as they have been recently, but they were good enough to deliver an early knockout punch to the Blue Demons (8-11, 1-7), one of the worst offensive teams in the conference. Georgetown ran out to an 18-2 lead that essentially decided the game.
The good start was especially important against a DePaul team that has been struggling. Three weeks ago, the Blue Demons were 8-5 and picked up their first Big East victory, a six-point win over Notre Dame. But they haven't won a game since then -- Tuesday's loss was their sixth in a row -- and their leading scorer, senior guard Sammy Mejia, sprained his left ankle last week at Marquette. Mejia, who hadn't practiced much following the injury, played 24 minutes against the Hoyas but was ineffective and scored just five points (10 below his average).
"Being on the road, you've always got to attack a team and you can't give them a chance to play around because then it'll be a harder game, especially away from your place," said sophomore guard Jonathan Wallace, who scored nine points. "You want to attack them hard and set the tone."
Wallace helped set that tone by making back-to-back three-pointers to open the game. The Hoyas made five of their first six attempts from beyond the arc, and by the time Ashanti Cook's three-pointer from the left side rattled in with 10 minutes 41 seconds to play, the Hoyas led 23-4. Georgetown's hot outside shooting was balanced by the inside presence of 7-foot-2 sophomore Roy Hibbert.
"That's what's great about our offense," said Hibbert, who finished with a game-high 17 points and eight rebounds. "Once our guards start hitting shots, it leaves the middle open for me. I feed off of that."
Even as the Hoyas cooled off and got a little sloppy over the next six minutes -- their only basket came off of a smart fake and layin from Jeff Green (15 points and seven rebounds) -- their advantage never slipped under 14 points. Hibbert dominated the final 4 1/2 minutes of the half, scoring easily inside against the smaller (6-9) but heavier (290 pounds) Wesley Green.
"I feel like every day I have a size mismatch. I try to exploit that mismatch," said Hibbert, with characteristic understatement.
"His confidence is up," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said of Hibbert, who made 7 of 9 shots. "He played well early in the year and had a 10-day stretch where he forgot he was good, and now he's starting to remember he's good. We were fortunate he got going. He did a very good job of establishing position deep and he made his little shots."
Thirteen of Hibbert's points and all of his rebounds came in the first half as Georgetown built a 34-18 lead. So just as they did on Saturday against Cincinnati, the Hoyas carried a 16-point edge into the locker room. That's something that rarely happened last season, when the Hoyas trailed at halftime in 11 of 16 conference games (and in five of those contests, they failed to score 20 points in the first 20 minutes).
"We've learned from our mistakes," Wallace said. "We take more pride in starting the game off harder and more intense so we can get some momentum going throughout the course of the game."