After a Tough Loss, Hoyas Must Regroup Quickly

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 5, 2009

The Big East season isn't yet one week old, but Georgetown already has experienced both extremes of competition -- the euphoria of toppling second-ranked Connecticut and the anguish, just five days later, of suffering its worst home loss in four seasons.

In the wake of Saturday's 70-54 drubbing at the hands of third-ranked Pittsburgh, the challenge facing the young Hoyas is regaining their equilibrium. Quickly.

That means, for their emotional well-being, figuring out which part of Saturday's defeat to forget. But it also means figuring out what lessons to take from the loss if they're to continue developing.

And they have less than 48 hours to distinguish the two before boarding a plane for tonight's game against seventh-ranked Notre Dame (10-3, 1-1).

"The nature of this league is that win or lose, you have to bounce back," Coach John Thompson III said after the loss.

Such quick turnarounds -- playing Saturday and Monday -- aren't easy in a conference as physical and deep as the 16-team Big East. But Georgetown (10-2, 1-1) can take solace in the fact that Notre Dame is facing the same predicament, having suffered a tough loss Saturday, as well, falling to St. John's, 71-65, at New York's Madison Square Garden.

And the Irish are doing similar soul-searching, with Coach Mike Brey pointing to rebounding as his team's weak link. Notre Dame surrendered 15 offensive rebounds to St. John's and were hammered on the boards, 41-30.

Georgetown's deficit against Pittsburgh was even more glaring, with the Hoyas allowing 20 offensive rebounds and were overwhelmed on the glass, 48-23.

Thompson rejected a suggestion that Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair, who had 17 rebounds, was simply unstoppable. From Thompson's vantage point, there were plenty of opportunities for all of his players, whether guards or big men, to create second-chance scoring opportunities and deny them to Pittsburgh.

A deficit on the boards wasn't the only commonality between the teams. Both had only two players contribute significant points in defeat.

Georgetown was led by DaJuan Summers's 22 points, and center Greg Monroe added 15.

Notre Dame, as is customary, was led by center Luke Harangody (28 points). And on a shaky night for three-point specialist Kyle McAlarney, the Irish got a welcome 14 points from Tory Jackson.

In Georgetown's case, Summers single-handedly kept the Hoyas in the game through the first half, and he hit the three-pointer that knotted the score at 40 in the second half.

But that's when the game got out of hand, with Pitt surging to a 17-4 run. The Hoyas forced several missed shots in that stretch but many were negated by Pittsburgh's offensive rebounds. The relentless nature of the Panthers' attack -- with not every shot falling, but nearly every possession resulting in a basket -- had a demoralizing effect.

The Pittsburgh loss underscores another issue that's likely to represent a challenge for the Hoyas going forward: Their reliance on their starters for offensive production.

Thompson has put enormous faith in his young starting lineup, which features one freshman (Monroe), two sophomores (guards Chris Wright and Austin Freeman), one junior (Summers) and one senior (guard Jessie Sapp).

And by nearly every measure they have exceeded expectations.

But when one or more are struggling from the floor, Thompson's options are limited.

The Hoyas' bench was outscored 14-2 by Pittsburgh's. In the victory over Connecticut, which sent fresh legs onto the floor in waves, Georgetown's bench was outscored 20-6. That brings the tally, though two Big East games, to 34-8, in favor of opponents' reserves.

And until Thompson develops a bit more depth, it leaves the Hoyas with scant margin for error. Asked whether he was concerned about the heavy reliance on his starters, Thompson conceded that it was important to develop a deeper bench.

"But we have approached this year with the mindset that our [starting] guys are in pretty good shape," Thompson said. "As long as the guys on the court are doing what they should do, we'll be fine."

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