By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 29, 2008
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Nov. 28 -- There was no lack of heart in Georgetown's first game of the season against a ranked opponent. But no amount of effort was enough against the depth and athleticism of No. 12 Tennessee -- at least at this stage of the Hoyas' rebuilding process.
The result was a 90-78 loss on Friday in the second round of the Old Spice Classic that shed light on the Hoyas' vulnerability when they fail to execute fundamentals such as rebounding and protecting the basketball.
The loss sent Georgetown (3-1) into Sunday's consolation game against Maryland, whom they've faced just twice since 1980.
While Georgetown hung with Tennessee for much of the game, clawing back from a 39-37 deficit at halftime to take an eight-point lead with 9 minutes 11 seconds remaining, the rally was undermined by turnovers down the stretch (20 in all) and the Volunteers' clutch shooting.
If there were glimmers of good news in the final statistics -- point guard Chris Wright's 38 minutes without a turnover or Omar Wattad's career-high nine points, including 3 of 3 three-point attempts -- Coach John Thompson III was is no mood to celebrate them.
Tennessee's 90 points were the most surrendered by one of Thompson's teams in his eight-year career as a head coach -- 250 games at Georgetown and Princeton before that. It also was the most surrendered by the Hoyas since a 94-70 loss to Connecticut in the 2003-04 season under Craig Esherick.
Until Friday, the Hoyas had held opponents to 29.6 percent shooting and 55 points per game. Tennessee shot 52.7 percent.
"Our team played better for longer stretches today," Thompson said. "But effort alone does not make you win. Our team has to come away with a better understanding of how we have to go about things."
Tennessee (5-0) was led by junior forward Tyler Smith (21 points) and got 37 points from its reserves, including three three-pointers in the final 4 1/2 minutes from Cameron Tatum (17 points).
"Our five guys are good, but our 10 is perhaps what makes us better and different," Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl said. "We go to the bench, and we don't fall off."
Thompson, however, balked at a reporter's suggestion that the Volunteers' depth was the pivotal factor, saying that would be an "easy" out.
"They executed well," Thompson said of Tennessee. "They did what they had to do. They got key stops, key turnovers. They made baskets at key points in game. You have to give them all the credit in the world. Their tenaciousness was good."
Thompson doesn't have the luxury of depth this season and is relying heavily on his five starters, with only Wattad playing more than eight minutes among the substitutes Friday.
Wright contributed a team-high 18 points. Junior forward DaJuan Summers added 17 and freshman center Greg Monroe, who sat out much of the first half after drawing two early fouls, scored 15 points.
Monroe started off the scoring with an emphatic dunk. And Summers, who was hardly a factor in the first half of the Hoyas' opening-round victory over Wichita State, had an early three-pointer. But with Georgetown leading 14-6, the Volunteers tied it with an 8-0 run.
Monroe was sent to the bench with two fouls less than nine minutes into the game, and Tennessee responded with a 14-2 run, aided by a flurry of Georgetown turnovers.
Wattad, a native of Johnson City, Tenn., entered the game in the second half and reclaimed the momentum for Georgetown with consecutive three-pointers that put the Hoyas up, 54-47.
The score was tied at 67 with less than six minutes to play. That's when Tatum found his hot hand, quashing any hope of a Georgetown rally. He put Tennessee up 80-71 with two minutes remaining. Just less than a minute later, he swished another from the same spot to make it 83-72.
Said former Maryland all-American Len Elmore, who covered the game for ESPN: "Georgetown plays tremendous defense. You drop 90 on them, that's an accomplishment unto itself. I don't think anyone else will do that this year. Or, should I say, I would be very surprised if anyone else did that this year."