By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 4, 2009
It has been clear from the season's outset that rebounding is Georgetown's weakness.
But against most opponents, the Hoyas have compensated for their shortcoming with better-than-expected play from freshman center Greg Monroe and sophomore point guard Chris Wright.
Yesterday at Verizon Center, a one-man wrecking crew left that formula for success in tatters.
Pittsburgh's burly power forward, sophomore DeJuan Blair, spurred the third-ranked Panthers to a 70-54 victory over Georgetown with a 20-point, 17-rebound performance that drew glaring attention to the deficiency that's most likely to spell trouble for the 11th-ranked Hoyas in the physical Big East.
Georgetown (10-2, 1-1) was outrebounded 48-23 in its most lopsided loss since March 2005, in Coach John Thompson III's first season.
With yesterday's victory, Pittsburgh (14-0, 2-0) ended what had been a 28-game winning streak by the Hoyas at Verizon Center. And the near-capacity crowd of 19,397 fell largely silent as Blair and the Panthers put the game out of reach in the second half, scoring on all but two possessions during a 14-minute stretch.
Operating on a hefty sense of indignation over the pregame hype surrounding Monroe (among the more coveted recruits in the nation), Blair used his 6-foot-7, 265-pound body to muscle Hoyas out of his way on both ends of the court.
When Blair wasn't sinking his own shots, he was stuffing his teammates' errant shots in the basket, grabbing rebounds and emerging from scrums with the ball in his hand.
"He used his strength to his advantage, and that's basically his game," said Monroe, who is four inches taller but 15 pounds lighter.
Georgetown simply had no answer for Blair, either in bulk or tenacity. Junior forward DaJuan Summers hurt the Panthers with his outside shooting in the first half (hitting all three attempts from beyond the arc), but he was stymied by defensive adjustments in the second half. He finished with a team-high 22 points but managed just two rebounds.
Monroe (15 points, eight rebounds) was slower to find his footing, doing his best work in the second half. But it was an ugly shooting display by everyone else on the team from start to finish, with Wright and fellow guard Jessie Sapp sinking just two of the 14 shots attempted between them.
The game was a rematch of last season's Big East championship, and it unfolded along the same lines as the squads' last two meetings, in which Pittsburgh's toughness -- particularly on the boards -- made the difference.
The Hoyas knew it would be a physical game, and they knew they would have to rebound better than they have all season to stay competitive. But knowing and doing are two different things.
"Today we just got outworked," Monroe said, "and they were a better team."
And with a road game against seventh-ranked Notre Dame looming tomorrow, it's not as if Thompson can schedule a refresher clinic on how to create second- and third-chance scoring opportunities. Even if he could, Thompson suggested that at this stage, instruction is not the issue.
"We have to get better," Thompson said of the rebounding differential. "I don't think it's a question of tactics or methods or go-watch-a-video to know what to do. It's just, 'Go get the ball!' "
Still, Georgetown kept the game in reach through the first half despite falling behind 11-5 and getting soundly outplayed on the boards and in the paint. Summers had the hot hand and pulled Georgetown within 19-17 with his third three-pointer.
Wright's outside shot wasn't falling, but he slashed through Pitt's defenders for a three-point play that made it 27-26. Still, the Hoyas were fortunate to trail just 33-30 at halftime.
Monroe scored the first basket of the second half, and Sapp got a monster block that seemed to signal a shift in the game's momentum. Austin Freeman pulled the Hoyas even, at 37 each, and the crowd erupted.
The score was still knotted at 40, but Pittsburgh answered with a 17-4 run. For a seven-minute stretch, Monroe was the only Hoya to score, and every ball that clanged off the rim seemed to fly into Blair's hands.
It was no accident.
"We took this game as a statement game -- to show we can play in a tough game and with anyone in the nation," Blair said afterward. Plus, there was the matter of all the attention lavished on Monroe, which Blair admitted rubbed him the wrong way.
"I played with something on my back [today], saying, 'They are picking this young cat against me?' " Blair said. "I'm not going to take it."
Staff writer Eric Prisbell contributed to this report.