Preliminaries Over, Real Tests Are Next
As Big East Looms, Hoyas Cruise at Home: Georgetown 76, Florida International 38

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Behind the closed doors of McDonough Arena, where Georgetown's basketball team holds its daily practices, there has been a troubling disparity between the performance of the starters and that of the squad's young reserves.

Whether the topic is dribbling, passing, shooting, offense or defense, Coach John Thompson III has wanted nothing quite so much as for his second group to catch up with his first. Finally, after two months' work, the gap is closing.

Thompson used last night's game against Florida International -- the final nonconference game before the Hoyas launch into their grueling Big East campaign -- as a means of rewarding the player he feels is most responsible, inserting sixth man Omar Wattad in the starting lineup in place of senior Jessie Sapp.

The lineup change, which wasn't explained until after the 76-38 romp over the injury-depleted Golden Panthers, surely had no bearing on the lopsided outcome.

With only four healthy scholarship players, Florida International (4-9) started two walk-ons against the 12th-ranked Hoyas. But with their best player undercutting his 20-point performance with seven turnovers, the Golden Panthers were no match for any variation of lineup that Thompson trotted on to the floor.

It was a rout from the moment Chris Wright's first three-pointer swished through the net 22 seconds into the game.

What followed wasn't so much a game as an exhibition -- at least on the Hoyas' part. While Thompson isn't a fan of hasty three-point shots, they proved impossible for Austin Freeman and Wright to resist when presented with wide-open looks.

Freeman hit 5 of 6 from beyond the arc to lead the Hoyas with 17 points. Wright scored 14. And junior forward DaJuan Summers (13) and freshman center Greg Monroe (10) also reached double figures.

"You can't come in here and start two walk-ons and beat Georgetown," Florida International Coach Sergio Rouco said. "There are a lot of miracles during the holidays, but they don't usually happen.

The Hoyas (9-1) took a 43-16 lead at the break. The score would have been more lopsided had Thompson not used the game to experiment with his lineup one last time before the Hoyas travel to Hartford to face No. 2 Connecticut on Monday.

The Huskies are widely considered college basketball's most physically imposing team, anchored by 7-foot-3 Hasheem Thabeet, the league's top shot-blocker, and boasting another 7-footer on the bench.

With that in mind, Thompson found 21 minutes of playing time for 6-10 freshman Henry Sims, who he alternately paired with his 6-11 and 6-8 starters Monroe and Summers. Sims finished with three points, seven rebounds and two blocks.

Transfer Julian Vaughn played 16 minutes, scoring just one point but asserting his 6-9 frame with a physicality that the Hoyas sorely need.

Georgetown's Big East season begins in brutal fashion, with three top-10 teams in an eight-day span. After Monday's game at Connecticut, the Hoyas host third-ranked Pittsburgh Jan. 3 and travel to eighth-ranked Notre Dame on Jan. 5.

Last night's game, then, was the last chance for reserves such as Vaughn, Sims and Jason Clark to prove they can be counted on when the foes are a far cry tougher than Florida International, which arrived in Washington with four straight losses. It was also the last game in which symbolic gestures -- such as giving a hard-working reserve like Wattad a chance to start -- will be possible.

Sapp entered the game with 11:28 remaining in the first half. When the second half got under way, Wattad again took Sapp's spot among the starters, ceding it after six minutes of play, with the Hoyas leading 57-25.

Each finished with four points.

With Georgetown up 73-32, seldom-used Bryon Jansen, the only other senior on the team, drew cheers when he entered the game. He drew a foul and hit both free throws.

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