By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Halfway into the college basketball season, Georgetown is still searching for an offense.
But faced with the prospect of losing six consecutive games for the first time since Craig Esherick's final coaching season, the Hoyas' defense roared to life last night at Verizon Center.
The result was a 57-47 victory over Rutgers that halted a midseason slide and restored a measure of good feeling to a team that had lost its swagger.
"Losing is awful," Coach John Thompson III said before breaking into a broad grin that hadn't been seen in weeks. "We took a baby step today. We got a win. There's a lot we still have to improve on."
So, having tumbled from the national rankings, Georgetown begins the humbling process of clawing its way back to respectability.
As games go, it was a plodding show for the 8,473 who turned up, with poor shooting by both teams in the first half, which saw Georgetown (13-8, 4-6 Big East) take a 27-18 lead into the break.
Only two Hoyas finished in double figures, and each just barely. Senior Jessie Sapp paced the team with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting.
"I'm back," said Sapp, crediting his resurgent shooting touch to an extra hour of drills with the team's student manager.
Center Greg Monroe added 10 points and was active in just about every other facet of the game, leading Georgetown in rebounds (seven), assists (six) and steals (four).
But if a victory over a bottom-dwelling Big East team can be considered a triumph, this one was earned by Georgetown's defense.
Rutgers (10-13, 1-9) shot just 31.6 percent in the first half and made only one field goal in the final 11 minutes 16 seconds of the period. Rutgers's 47 points was a season low. And for a long stretch in the second half, freshman Mike Rosario, the school's first McDonald's all-American, was a one-man offensive show for his hapless team, scoring 15 of the squad's 18 points.
The Hoyas also had an active hand in Rutgers's season-high 21 turnovers, with nearly everyone on the floor stripping a ball or intercepting a pass at one point.
"It was everything," said Rutgers Coach Fred Hill, asked to account for his team's failure to hang on to the ball. "Certainly Georgetown's defense, our decision-making, ballhandling. [With] 16 turnovers by our guards, you're not going to win a game that way."
Still, after falling behind by 20 in the second half, Rutgers pared Georgetown's lead to 13 with 8:06 remaining and then to nine. It was a stretch that didn't exactly please Thompson. But after suffering through five consecutive losses, he chose to focus, at least in the immediately aftermath of the desperately needed victory, on the positive.
"At the end of the day, I'm glad we scored more points than them," Thompson said.
The game got off to a rough start for the Hoyas. They made one basket in seven attempts and saw their leading scorer, DaJuan Summers, pick up two fouls. Summers spent the rest of the period on the bench.
Georgetown took its first lead, 9-8, on a layup by Austin Freeman.
And Thompson shuffled his lineup looking for an offensive spark, tapping Nikita Mescheriakov, Jason Clark and Omar Wattad in succession.
None of the three had much feel for the basket. But with Rutgers turning over the ball every few minutes, the Hoyas didn't need much offense to keep their lead in check.
Georgetown came out blazing to start the second half.
Sapp got them going with the second three-pointer of the night, and Summers followed soon after, scoring his first points of the game with 16:48 remaining.
Back-to back three-pointers by Clark and Mescheriakov put Georgetown up 43-23 and forced Hill to call a timeout.
Fueled by Rosario's offensive exploits and Georgetown turnovers, Rutgers went on an 18-7 run that cut the Hoyas' lead to nine.
But Georgetown kept its poise, just as it had in the first half, when the shots weren't falling as easily. That fact alone -- more than any single statistic -- pleased Thompson most.
"In the past when we have missed shots, we have not been as attentive to every other aspect of the game," Thompson said. "And when we've missed shots we've gotten angst."
Not on this night.
The Hoyas won the rebounding battle, albeit by a small margin. They also finished with more assists (15) than turnovers (14) -- again, not a sterling statistic, but one that's heading in the right direction.
So on this night, Thompson said he would sleep a bit better. But he wasn't about to make any statement more grandiose than that.
"We have a lot of room for growth," Thompson said. "We have tremendous room for growth. We just have to keep getting better."