By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 14, 2007
PITTSBURGH, Jan. 13 -- Two years ago, Georgetown came to Pittsburgh as a young team with a new coach and three freshman starters, and they shocked the ranked Panthers inside a building where they rarely lose. It was the first significant victory for Coach John Thompson III, as well as Jeff Green, Roy Hibbert and Jonathan Wallace.
On Saturday night, the Hoyas returned to Petersen Events Center, once again facing a ranked Pittsburgh team and once again looking for a major win. They shot a season-high 60.9 percent, but it wasn't enough against the talented and balanced Panthers. Seventh-ranked Pittsburgh won, 74-69, and dropped Georgetown to 11-5 overall and 1-2 in the Big East.
"I just know that's a very, very good team," said Thompson, when asked if he ever had a team shoot 60 percent and lose. "I don't think we played poorly. When you make a mistake, they capitalize on it. It seems like every mistake you make, they capitalize on it. At both ends of the floor, that's a very deep and experienced team."
The game had all the trappings of a big-time event, which was fitting considering it pitted the teams that were picked to finish first and second in the Big East preseason coaches' poll. A raucous crowd of 12,508 filled Petersen Events Center, where the Panthers have lost only six games in five seasons, and ESPN's "College GameDay" show was broadcast live from the arena earlier in the day.
And the two teams lived up to the billing. Pittsburgh (16-2, 4-0), the lone undefeated team in the Big East, showed why it is considered to be the best team in the conference. Aaron Gray, the 7-foot center who was the Big East's preseason player of the year, scored 11 points, but his battle with the 7-foot-2 Hibbert (11 points) didn't take center stage. Gray's presence inside was just one weapon, balanced out with a savvy guard -- junior transfer Mike Cook (18 points) -- who could get to the basket. Pittsburgh shot 59.6 percent.
"That's why they're good," Thompson said. "They're experienced. It's not just the talent level; all those guys played in a lot of tough situations, and they have tough kids. I said leading up to the game that if you focus on [Gray], that's a mistake. They surround him with guys that are very good shooters and very good passers."
And the Panthers, who had 22 assists and just seven turnovers, did a good job of finding the open player, whether it was guard Levance Fields for a three-pointer or guard Keith Benjamin lurking on the baseline for a layin.
The Hoyas, who made five of their first six shots to take an early 11-8 lead, didn't make many mistakes early. Both Hibbert, who wasn't credited with a single shot attempt in Monday's loss against Villanova, and Green (15 points, seven assists) were aggressive, making strong moves to the basket, like Hibbert's spin and dunk overtop 6-10 Levon Kendall.
But the Panthers, led by Cook, took control of the game during a stretch that encompassed the final 11 minutes of the first half and the first three minutes of the second half. They scored on 17 of their 22 possessions in that span and opened up a 49-34 advantage.
There was one brief lull when Pittsburgh settled for jump shots against Georgetown's zone, and the Hoyas were able to make a brief run behind Wallace and sophomore guard Jessie Sapp (15 points). But the Panthers ended the half with Fields driving the lane, drawing Hibbert and then dishing to Gray for a rim-rattling dunk that gave Pittsburgh a 41-32 halftime lead -- the first time this season Georgetown went into the break facing a deficit.
Junior forward Patrick Ewing Jr., who played a season-high 22 minutes, helped the Hoyas get close in the final 10 minutes, defending Gray in the post and hitting two three-pointers while Hibbert was on the bench. Ewing (12 points) made a long two-pointer with 3:22 remaining to draw Georgetown to within six, 68-62.
"It doesn't feel good at all because we lost," said Green, who reached the 1,000-point mark for his career. "We didn't do some things we needed to do to get stops to try to get back into the game. They scored almost every possession. We need to get better on the defensive side."