By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 10, 2006
There were still nearly three minutes left in Georgetown's game with St. John's last night when the Hoyas student section turned its attention to the next opponent, chanting "West Virginia! West Virginia!" And why not? The 15th-ranked Hoyas held a comfortable 30-point lead, all of their starters were resting on the bench, and they were well on their way to their seventh straight win in front of 9,739 spectators at MCI Center.
Georgetown's 64-41 victory over the overmatched Red Storm sets up an important game with ninth-ranked West Virginia on Sunday night at MCI Center. The Mountaineers suffered their first Big East loss last night at Pittsburgh, and the Hoyas (17-4, 8-2) now find themselves one game in the loss column behind the top three teams in the league: West Virginia (17-5, 8-1), top-ranked Connecticut (21-1, 8-1), and fourth-ranked Villanova (18-2, 8-1).
The Hoyas lost to West Virginia earlier in the season, a game in which they led for most of the first half.
"We felt like we gave one away, so it's definitely an opportunity to go against a team that already beat you," senior forward Brandon Bowman said. "It's another game in the Big East, and you got to bring your 'A' game, and go into the game with right mind-set."
Georgetown has the easiest closing stretch -- relatively speaking -- of the top four teams in the conference; its final six opponents have a combined Big East record of 29-27. But this upcoming three-game stretch is particularly tough: West Virginia on Sunday, at Marquette (which is 11-2 at Bradley Center, including a 15-point upset of Connecticut) next Thursday, and at Villanova on Feb. 19.
Still, there is no question the Hoyas are playing very well. They continued their efficient offensive play; they had 16 assists on 22 field goals, and shot 45.8 percent from the field. But the most impressive thing Thursday night was their hounding defense. They forced St. John's into 16 turnovers and 32.7 percent shooting -- a performance that Coach Norm Roberts said "stunk." The 41 points were the fewest the Hoyas had given up to a Big East opponent since the 1983-84 season when they beat Providence, 59-38.
St. John's (10-11) entered the game with a 3-6 conference mark, but the Red Storm has always given Georgetown problems. In each of the past two years, in fact, late-season losses to the Red Storm contributed to late-season swoons by the Hoyas.
But not this year. The Hoyas swept the season series with St. John's for the first time since the 1996-97 season. Thursday night's win was much easier than the first one -- Georgetown used a 17-4 run to open the game and an 18-2 run at the start of the second half to pull away -- and it looked much different. The Hoyas buried St. John's with their outside shooting (12 for 21 from three-point range) in the first game, a 79-65 win on Jan. 8. This time, Georgetown went inside early.
Bowman scored 16 points, mainly on drives and fast-break opportunities (he had two nice open-court, one-handed dunks). Center Roy Hibbert, who was not a factor in the first game, had 14 points and eight rebounds, a performance that Coach John Thompson III said was probably his best of the season, in terms of overall presence.
The 7-foot-2 Hibbert was on the court for a season-low eight minutes when these teams met last month. He was a step slow defensively against the Red Storm's inside tandem of Lamont Hamilton and Aaron Spears, so Thompson opted to go with reserve Amadou Kilkenny-Diaw for key stretches in that game.
Thompson didn't have to do that this time. Hibbert was active at both ends of the court, particularly on the glass. Hamilton and Spears combined for just three rebounds, and they scored six and four points, respectively.
"Hamilton and Spears are pretty good, and I think Roy just got going there," Thompson said. "I think he was a little revved up because they outplayed him the first time up there. He did a good job, and it was good to see him respond."
Said Roberts: "I thought Hibbert was the big difference early on, we couldn't keep him off the glass. He kept balls alive even when we played good defense."
The Red Storm couldn't get anything going against the Hoyas' defense. St. John's junior guard Daryll "Showtime" Hill, who did not play in the first game between the teams due to a knee injury, was ineffective; he hardly resembled the explosive scorer who tormented the Hoyas in the past. He had more traveling violations (three) than shots attempted (one) in the first half, and he finished with just seven points and six turnovers. No Red Storm player scored in double figures.