By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 1, 2009
MILWAUKEE, Jan. 31 -- Georgetown could hardly have drawn a more difficult foe or daunting setting in trying to stop its free fall in the Big East standings.
But after dominating the first half against eighth-ranked Marquette, which boasts the Big East's top-scoring offense, the Hoyas let yet another crucial conference game slip away Saturday and fell, 94-82, before a wildly partisan, capacity crowd of 19,041 at Bradley Center.
With the victory, Marquette (19-2, 8-0) remained perfect in conference play and bolstered the argument it has made all season: That three spectacular guards can take a college basketball team as far as any roster of towering big men.
Georgetown (12-8, 3-6) has now lost five consecutive games. The latest brought to an end a lamentable three-game stretch of road defeats and likely ensured that the No. 25 Hoyas will tumble from the national rankings Monday.
And though the Big East season is only halfway over, with nine games left to be played, the Hoyas' prospects of earning a berth in the NCAA tournament no longer seem certain.
There were encouraging signs amid the bleak outcome, however.
Georgetown's leading scorer, junior forward DaJuan Summers, tied his season high with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting. Summers's status for the game had been in doubt after he injured his left foot in Wednesday's loss to Cincinnati.
But 11 of Summers's points came in the first six minutes of the game. And with 16 minutes 45 seconds remaining in the game, he became the 40th player in Georgetown history to reach 1,000 career points with a dunk that put the Hoyas up 48-47.
The entire team, in fact, finally broke out of its shooting slump Saturday. Georgetown shot 56.1 percent, including 50 percent on three-point attempts.
Sophomore guard Chris Wright finished with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting. And while freshman center Greg Monroe hardly played his best game -- he had more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four) -- he contributed 13 points.
And despite the double-digit final margin, the Hoyas played more tenacious defense than they have in their last three losses. But Marquette simply had too much firepower, particularly in the second half, in which it outscored Georgetown 52-40.
Marquette had three players score 23 points or more, paced by the dazzling Jerel McNeal, who led all scorers with 26 points and dished out 11 assists. McNeal didn't confine his exploits to offense, either, with six rebounds, five steals and three blocks.
Coach John Thompson III conceded that his young team had taken strides in the game, but it was a joyless acknowledgment.
"It's hard, because we want to win. We've got to win," Thompson said. "And so it's hard to sit and say, 'We made progress.' And we did. We did. But we have to figure out how to win."
Buzz Williams, Marquette's first-year coach, reveled in the win regardless of Georgetown's struggles.
"They have three McDonald's all-Americans, a Final Four head coach, a very, very talented roster that poses mismatch problems for us a lot of different ways," Williams said of Georgetown. "I think Chris Wright is very good. I think Greg Monroe is the best freshman in the country. From a size perspective and strength perspective, we're behind from the moment they tipped it up."
Georgetown was the better team in the early going, playing at both ends of the court with the tenacity that has been missing.
Marquette took the lead for the first time with seven minutes left in the first half on a three-pointer by Wesley Matthews that put the Golden Eagles up, 28-27, and the arena erupted.
Marquette's Lazar Hayward hit a three-pointer to knot the score at 42 with less than one minute remaining in the half.
Still, the Hoyas had to feel positive at the break. They had shot 65.4 percent and led by 10 while never allowing the Golden Eagles more than a one-point lead.
Marquette was a different team in the second half, and the outcome was sealed with about 15 minutes to play. With the score tied at 52, Marquette went on a 14-3 run while the Hoyas turned over the ball on one possession after another.
Matthews, who finished with 23 points, credited the outcome to his team's maturity, character and heart. With a starting lineup of four seniors and one junior, the Golden Eagles don't easily lose their poise, and they weren't about to on this day.
"We're old!" Matthews said. "Maturity is helping us out so much this season, with embracing the success but still being hungry to get better every day."