By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 29, 2009
CINCINNATI, Jan. 28 -- John Thompson III isn't one to make proclamations after a basketball game.
Whether victory or loss, Georgetown's coach is so measured that it's rare he'll make even a simple declarative statement without a sheet of statistics in hand to support it.
But after Wednesday's late-game collapse against Cincinnati, in which Georgetown stumbled to its fourth consecutive loss, 65-57 -- and lost its leading scorer DaJuan Summers to an ankle injury in the process -- Thompson spoke in unequivocal terms.
"We will figure this out," Thompson said during a postgame news conference that dwelled on shortcomings that have become the norm for the struggling Hoyas. "Regardless of how bad DaJuan's injury is, we'll figure this out. That's what we do! We're in a bad place, but I told the guys, 'We will figure this out.' "
And then he cradled his forehead in his hand, as if spent from the search for answers.
These are painful times for No. 25 Georgetown (12-7, 3-5), which opened the Big East season with an upset of mighty Connecticut, sending notice that its retooled roster of freshmen and sophomores had enough talent to shock the pundits who had predicted they would finish no better than seventh this season.
After four consecutive losses -- the last three to unranked teams -- Georgetown is looking up at seventh place in the Big East and on the brink of dropping out of the national rankings for the first time this season.
The themes of Wednesday's defeat are familiar to those who watched the team's previous losses, to Seton Hall, West Virginia and Duke. Georgetown shot poorly (40 percent), particularly from three-point range (29.4 percent). The Hoyas were outrebounded, 30-28. Their vaunted defense failed to contain the opponent's best player (Cincinnati's Deonta Vaughn led all scorers with 20 points). And their weakest stretch came in the final minutes, with the outcome still very much in play.
With 4 minutes 41 seconds remaining, Cincinnati led 55-54. But instead of fighting back, the Hoyas misfired, turning the ball over twice and missing four three-pointers and one layup.
Cincinnati closed with an 11-2 run to the delight of the shrieking crowd of 7,265 that braved the region's worst ice storm in memory -- one that toppled trees and power lines, shut three of four runways at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, canceled classes at the university and triggered a travel ban on the county's interstates, which were closed to all but emergency vehicles until 3 1/2 hours before tip-off.
The Bearcats (14-7, 4-4) hadn't won a game against Georgetown since joining the Big East three seasons ago. And it was hailed as a triumph by third-year coach Mick Cronin, who credited his players' defensive grit down the stretch.
No Georgetown player had a great game. Chris Wright led the scoring with 15 points. Austin Freeman had 14 on 4-of-12 shooting. And center Greg Monroe had his first truly ragged game, managing 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting. Monroe lofted an air ball from three-point range, turned the ball over four times and hit just two of his four free throws.
Credit Cincinnati freshman Yancy Gates, who used his 6-foot-9, 260-pound frame to great effect in blocking four shots.
Thompson's option for an inside presence were limited when Summers went down just 13 minutes into the game on a lob pass. He came up limping, went to the bench at the next break and never returned.
"Coming out of the half, he said he couldn't move, he couldn't run, he couldn't play," Thompson said, indicating Summers had injured his left ankle.
Cronin said later that he understood Summers had "torn" his ankle. Georgetown officials could not be reached to comment.
Georgetown has little time to regroup with or without its leading scorer. Coming up Saturday: No. 8 Marquette, which has yet to lose a Big East game.
But for the Hoyas, it has reached a point where the quality of the opponent doesn't matter. They have shot poorly all month, compiling a 2-6 record in January. And the struggles have translated to a palpable lack of confidence that other teams are seizing upon.
"Right now they're struggling to shoot the ball," Cronin said. "It's fairly evident their confidence is shaken behind the line. It's a tough situation, because where do you go to get out of that?"
Thompson experimented with his rotation frequently Wednesday, looking for that missing offensive spark in backups Jason Clark, Nikita Mescheriakov and Omar Wattad.
"We have to figure out how to win the next game," Thompson said. "Obviously we're not in the place we want to be."