By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
SOUTH BEND, Ind., Jan. 5 -- Georgetown Coach John Thompson III reminds his players often that opponents are apt to go on scoring spurts.
The key, he tells them, is not to panic. Instead, dig in. Do the fundamentals well. Keep plugging at the opposite end of the court. That's how smart teams keep from getting blown out.
The Georgetown Hoyas tried following that script against Notre Dame on Monday night but came up short in nearly every respect except effort. The result was their second consecutive loss, 73-67 -- a contest that was more lopsided than the score indicates -- to the delight of a capacity crowd at the Joyce Center, where the Irish extended the nation's longest home winning-streak to 44 games.
Though defense is Georgetown's calling card, the Hoyas (10-3, 1-2) lacked the muscle to contain the Big East player of the year, junior forward Luke Harangody, who finished with 31 points and 11 rebounds, hitting from all points on the court and battling for loose balls under the boards despite playing with four fouls much of the second half.
And the Hoyas couldn't summon the offensive firepower to counter Harangody's display. Their shots didn't fall from long range (4 of 18), and they were nearly as errant from the free throw line (13 of 22).
The loss concluded a brutal three-game opening to conference play for the Hoyas, who went 1-2 against Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. And it overshadowed the first double-double by freshman center Greg Monroe, who led the Hoyas with 21 points and added a team-high 10 rebounds.
Only two others scored in double digits: Chris Wright (13) and DaJuan Summers (11).
It was the first time the Hoyas had played at Notre Dame since Jan. 24, 2006 -- a slugfest that required double-overtime to sort out. But on this night, before a crowd so loud it was easy to forget that Notre Dame students hadn't returned from their holiday break, Georgetown could barely stay in the fight.
Both teams were coming off defeats two days earlier. Ninth-ranked Georgetown had its 28-game winning streak at Verizon Center snapped by a 16-point loss to Pittsburgh. And Notre Dame (11-3, 2-1) had come away from New York's Madison Square Garden with a humbling loss to St. John's that dropped its ranking from seventh to 13th.
On a night when each wanted to prove it had the mettle to bounce back decisively, Notre Dame proved the more resilient. After the lead changed hands eight times in early in the first half, Notre Dame went ahead 24-23 on one of Kyle McAlarney's five three-pointers and never trailed again.
"Obviously, they're very confident in this building," Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said of his team. "It has been therapy for us. When we've lost on the road, we come home and get well."
It would have been easier for Georgetown to keep the game in check, of course, had Harangody been Notre Dame's sole source of offense. But McAlarney regained the touch that deserted him against St. John's to add 17 points.
The Hoyas had small victories along the way. They dominated the paint, particularly after changing tactics in the late stages and slashing to the basket. They won the rebounding battle, 37-34, and came away with 19 second-chance points to Notre Dame's nine.
But the Irish did the fundamentals better, out-performing Georgetown by doing things the Hoyas typically do exceptionally well -- playing tough defense, taking smart shots, making the extra pass and nailing their free throws.
Mindful of their failure on the boards against Pittsburgh, the Hoyas came out determined to limit Notre Dame to one shot. And they did a good job for the first few minutes, with Monroe establishing a strong inside presence and reserve Henry Sims offering help.
But they struggled from the perimeter, with Wright, Jessie Sapp and Austin Freeman clanging one shot after another off the rim.
With the Irish leading 26-25, Harangody scored nine consecutive points, spurring an 11-2 run. Over the final eight minutes of the first half, Georgetown scored only five points, and the Irish took a 39-28 lead to the locker room.
Georgetown came out with new energy in the second half. Sapp hit his first three-pointer to open the period, and Monroe followed with two quick baskets to make it 39-35.
But it quickly became clear that the Hoyas didn't have an answer for Harangody, despite his foul trouble.
"We have a long way to go," Thompson said. "And we can improve significantly from where we are right now."