By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Less than five minutes into yesterday's game against Cincinnati, Georgetown Coach John Thompson III was so irked at his players' lackluster effort that he benched his entire starting five, sending five backups onto the court to demonstrate the meaning of heart.
If possible, the last 12 minutes of the game were even worse. In that span -- seven minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime -- the Hoyas made only one field goal in 12 attempts and turned over the ball four times.
As a result, Georgetown let another crucial Big East game slip away, falling to Cincinnati, 64-62, in overtime after squandering a 12-point lead on a home court that not long ago all but guaranteed victory.
It was the second time the Hoyas had lost to unranked Cincinnati in 10 days. With it, Georgetown slumped to 13-9 overall and 4-7 in the Big East -- records sufficiently mediocre to raise doubts about the Hoyas' worthiness for an NCAA tournament bid.
"They all hurt," Thompson said when asked to compare this loss to the Bearcats to the previous one. "This one hurt more because it just happened."
There was plenty of blame to go around.
Freshman center Greg Monroe missed 3 of 4 free throws during overtime, a period that saw neither team make a field goal.
With Georgetown shooting 0 of 8 and Cincinnati shooting 0 of 3 from the field in overtime, the game was decided by foul shots. Cincinnati (16-8, 6-5) sank 5 of 6 free throw attempts; Georgetown, just 3 of 6.
Even after Cincinnati's Alvin Mitchell knotted the score at 59 by making a three-pointer with 1 minute 4 seconds left in regulation, Georgetown had multiple opportunities to put away the game.
But Monroe turned over the ball on one possession, and DaJuan Summers's final jumper in regulation clanged off the rim.
While no Hoyas were injured, it's clear the team isn't functioning properly, having lost six of its last seven games. With the exception of a 76-67 loss to Duke on Jan. 17, all of those defeats have been to teams with less talent and fewer credentials than the Hoyas, whose roster boasts three McDonald's all-Americans.
Moreover, Jessie Sapp, Georgetown's lone senior starter, was benched for all but six minutes of yesterday's game. After being sent to the sideline with the rest of the starters in the opening minutes, Sapp returned with less than two minutes left in the first half but spent the rest of the game on the far end of the bench, away from his teammates and coach. Thompson declined to explain, saying simply, "Coach's decision."
In a postgame news conference that felt more like a postmortem, Thompson was asked if he was clear on his starting lineup for the next game, Saturday at Syracuse.
"No," he said flatly. "That's not to say it's not going to be the same. But no."
According to Monroe, Georgetown's starters understood why they were publicly rebuked with the mass benching after they fell behind, 8-2, just 4:36 into the game.
"We came out flat as a group," said Monroe, who paced the Hoyas with 13 points. "He put the players in that had energy."
Freshman guard Jason Clark was a sparkplug, and Henry Sims, Omar Wattad, Julian Vaughn and Nikita Mescheriakov came close to matching his defensive intensity.
After trailing 13-5, the Hoyas went on a tear, outscoring Cincinnati 28-8. They forced the Bearcats into bad shots, lunged for rebounds and dived for loose balls, with Clark hitting the floor every other trip down the court, it seemed.
Georgetown took a 26-21 lead at halftime and came out strong in the second half, with Thompson inserting Mescheriakov in Sapp's traditional spot to open the period.
Summers, held to one point in the first half, hit a three-pointer that put Georgetown up, 31-21. Guard Chris Wright (nine points, four assists) slashed to the basket for a layup that gave the Hoyas their biggest lead, 33-21, with 17:46 to play.
But Cincinnati kept digging.
Georgetown had done a great job defending Cincinnati's Deonta Vaughn in the first half, holding the Bearcats' top scorer to just seven points.
But Vaughn came to life in the second half. So did his reinforcements, Larry Davis and Alvin Mitchell, who combined for six three-pointers.
Cincinnati shot 63.6 percent in the second half. Meantime, Georgetown went cold. Austin Freeman, ostensibly the team's shooting guard, went 26 minutes without a field goal after scoring the final points of the first half on a jumper, failing to hit anything except for four free throws in the second half and overtime.
Still, Georgetown led 59-56 with 1:54 to play.
Cincinnati's Mitchell tied it with the three-pointer. Unable to close the game in regulation, Georgetown trudged into overtime and fared even worse.