By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
The starting lineup may have been retooled over the summer, but the fundamentals of Georgetown basketball remain intact.
Strong defense and a collective approach on offense proved the key last night, as Georgetown's new-look starting lineup, which includes just three starters from last season, turned back a spirited effort by Jacksonville, 71-62, and extended the Hoyas' winning streak at Verizon Center to 22 games.
Four Hoyas finished in double figures, paced by sophomore guard Chris Wright (16 points). Freshman Greg Monroe made an impressive debut (14 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocked shots). And veterans Jessie Sapp and DaJuan Summers poured in 13 points each.
Better still, the No. 22-ranked Hoyas (1-0) held Jacksonville to 35.4 percent shooting and a miserable 3 of 20 from three-point range.
But the most striking performance was that of Monroe, the highly touted 6-foot-11 McDonald's all-American charged with filling the void left by 7-2 center Roy Hibbert, now putting his diploma to use with the NBA's Indiana Pacers.
Monroe sank the first basket of the game -- a layup 13 seconds into the contest that he made look as simple as tiddlywinks. And he shattered any notion that he might be timid starting his first college game, shoving his broad shoulders into the fray on both ends of the court before drawing a fourth foul that sent him to the bench late in the second half.
That's when the Hoyas faced their only truly precarious stretch. While the Dolphins (0-2) never led, they slashed a 16-point lead to just four points with 5 minutes 19 seconds remaining before Sapp took charge, hitting every one of his free throws down the stretch and calming his anxious teammates.
The victory was hardly as resounding as Georgetown's 87-55 romp over Jacksonville last December.
And fifth-year coach John Thompson III had no trouble identifying shortcomings he intends to work on. Chief among them: His Hoyas attempted far too many three-point shots -- 23 in all, connecting on only five (21.7 percent).
Thompson also stressed the need for more aggressive and effective rebounding, particularly on the defensive end, noting it was a responsibility for everyone on the court -- not just the big men inside.
The Dolphins out-rebounded the Hoyas, 44-37, despite a considerable disadvantage in stature (Jacksonville had two starters under 6 feet and none taller than 6-7),
"To give up 19 offensive rebounds is unacceptable," Thompson said.
But on balance, the coach's tone was more that of a teacher than a disciplinarian.
"It's the first game, and we played most of the game with freshmen and sophomores," Thompson said. "We have to grow, and we have to learn."
Thompson opened the game as expected, with Wright at point guard -- the first fresh face for the Hoyas at the position since 2004. Monroe started at center. And veterans Austin Freeman, Summers and Sapp filled out the lineup.
Monroe supplied the early spark, scoring four points and blocking two shots in the first five minutes.
Jacksonville Coach Cliff Warren offered nothing but praise.
"He can score. He can rebound. He can face up. He can pass. He can think the game," Warren said of Monroe. "He's just a very poised young man."
Both teams struggled mightily from beyond the arc, hitting just 8 of 43 attempts on the night. The NCAA moved the three-point line back one full foot after last season, to 20 feet 9 inches, and it seemed as if players only got word before tip-off.
But it wasn't simply the low percentage that troubled Thompson; it was the rash decision-making behind the shots and the unwillingness, in too many cases, to muscle the ball inside.
Given his team's considerable turnover, Thompson had said that this season's Hoyas will have to grow up fast.
Monroe, it seems, is nearly there.
"You start all over every year, so I'm not going to compare and contrast this team to last year's team," Thompson said. "We want to be, by the end of the year, the most improved team."