By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 6, 2008
After playing three games in four days in a 5,000-seat venue far from home, Georgetown returns to Verizon Center today to face yet another area foe in front of an at least mildly divided crowd.
American, rather than Maryland, serves up the challenge this weekend. And though the Eagles don't have an NCAA championship banner hanging over their home court, Georgetown Coach John Thompson III says that his team's mind-set is much like it was on the eve of Sunday's game against Maryland at the Old Spice Classic.
"When you play a local team, all bets are off," Thompson said this week. "Everything goes out the window. You forget about scouting reports. You forget about what you've seen just because of the familiarity they have with us and we have with them."
On the final day of the Thanksgiving weekend tournament in Orlando, Georgetown (4-1) rebounded from its first loss of the season (falling to then-12th-ranked Tennessee, 90-78) by routing Maryland, 75-48.
Senior guard Jessie Sapp says there's no reason for that intensity to wane against the Eagles.
American (4-3) accomplished something Maryland didn't last season by earning a berth in the NCAA tournament. The Eagles, who won the Patriot League's regular season and conference championships, also boast more experience than the Hoyas this year, with a starting lineup composed entirely of seniors.
"Everybody saw what they did last year," Sapp said of American. "They won their conference. They beat teams people thought they weren't going to beat [Maryland, among them]. They gave Tennessee a run for their money in the [NCAA] tournament. So you can't look past those guys."
With two new faces in its starting lineup -- freshman Greg Monroe at center and sophomore Chris Wright at point guard -- Georgetown is still figuring out its most effective offensive formula. Three players have led the team in scoring (Monroe, Wright and Austin Freeman). Rebounding remains a weakness, and turnovers outnumber assists (75 to 67).
But defense, a hallmark of Thompson's teams, has been its strength -- save for the final minutes against Tennessee, when the Volunteers went on a breathtaking scoring tear, hitting one contested shot after another to put the game out of reach.
And that's what concerns American Coach Jeff Jones most.
"This year's Georgetown team is an exceptional team defensively," Jones said. "They're very long, and they use their length and get in the passing lane and create a lot of problems. Handling that and not backing off, for lack of a better term, and trying to find an offensive answer is a really big challenge."
Georgetown holds a 41-8 edge in the series with American, which was resumed just last season after a 20-year hiatus.
In that game, which followed American's 67-59 upset of Maryland, the Eagles bolted to a 19-13 lead on impressive perimeter shooting. But the Hoyas kicked into a higher gear and won, 78-51.
"We were in a good rhythm, and things were going well," Jones recalled. "But when they turned it up, we didn't have a good answer. We allowed them to get out in transition, and we never responded."
Jones said he's grateful to give his players another shot at the rivalry. The Eagles are led by 5-foot-11 senior guard Garrison Carr, who is averaging 19 points per game.
"It's a great thing for us," Jones said of American's second game against Georgetown in 12 months. "We're really appreciative of John and Georgetown for playing us. There are a lot of big schools that don't do that, for whatever reason."
Said Thompson: "They are a confident team, a well-coached team. And they've got some guys that can put the ball in the basket. And it's an emotional game because it's the team that's right down the street."