By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 19, 2009
TAMPA, Feb. 18 -- The road has not been kind to Georgetown this season.
But against a poor-shooting team in a half-full arena more than 800 miles from home, the Hoyas regained their footing Wednesday and trounced South Florida, 65-40, at the Sun Dome.
It was only the Hoyas' second victory over a Big East opponent on the road -- the other, an upset of then-No. 2 Connecticut, sent expectations sky high at the start of conference play.
Though it's difficult to draw broad inferences from the lopsided outcome given South Florida's woeful shooting (31.9 percent), the game served as a showcase for the skill and athleticism that have been on the Hoyas' roster all along but gone missing in recent weeks.
And it was a badly needed tonic for the back-to-back overtime losses that have left Georgetown (14-10, 5-8) in serious jeopardy of missing the NCAA tournament.
"It feels good to win," Coach John Thompson III said afterward, as if unloading a boulder from his shoulders.
Georgetown hadn't notched such a decisive victory since its 38-point rout of Florida International on Dec. 23. Since mid-January, losses have been the norm.
But after dropping seven of its previous eight games, Georgetown rebounded with a vengeance at the Sun Dome, playing at both ends of the court like the nationally ranked team it was just last month.
Sophomore guard Chris Wright led the Hoyas for a second consecutive game, scoring 17 points and handing out six assists. Freshman center Greg Monroe finished with a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds). And senior guard Jessie Sapp (10 points) came off the bench to give the Hoyas the biggest offensive spark of the night, hitting back-to-back three-pointers to spur a 14-0 first-half run that put the Bulls in a big hole.
The Hoyas had a major hand in South Florida's poor showing on offense. Georgetown played tenacious defense, contesting nearly every shot and grabbing 10 steals. South Florida (8-17, 3-10) made just 1 of 12 three-pointers and was outrebounded, 37-26.
But on this night, the Bulls couldn't make uncontested shots, either, going 9 of 23 from the free throw line.
"There's no way to sugarcoat this one," South Florida Coach Stan Heath said. "We got it handed to us. It was inexcusable some of the things that were happening."
Still, for all the good feeling among the Hoyas, Wednesday's victory wasn't enough to change their fundamental predicament.
Having fallen to 10th in the Big East standings, Georgetown must win four of its five remaining games to finish at .500 -- considered the unofficial threshold for receiving an NCAA tournament bid.
While defeating South Florida was an encouraging step, the Bulls, after all, are last in the Big East in scoring, field goal percentage and free throw shooting.
Georgetown's next two opponents are more formidable -- 10th-ranked Marquette on Saturday, followed by No. 7 Louisville on Monday.
Asked about the challenge, Thompson pleaded, "Can I just enjoy this for a few minutes?"
There was, in fact, plenty for Thompson to savor -- his players' shot selection, teamwork, tempo and a welcome return of shooting touch by guards Sapp and Wright, who hit 10 of their 15 shots.
Nikita Mescheriakov, who again started in place of Sapp, missed all three of his attempts from beyond the three-point arc but was active on defense, with five rebounds and a steal.
The Bulls kept things reasonably close through the first 12 minutes.
But after taking a 15-13 lead, Georgetown went on a 14-0 run.
The Bulls were a study in futility, making only six field goals and two assists in the half.
The crowd of 7,015 was never much of a factor, having grown accustomed to their team's struggles to shoot the ball. But the tenor of the most vocal hecklers shifted decidedly after Georgetown took charge.
At the game's outset, South Florida students nearest Georgetown's bench singled out Monroe, chanting: "Hey Greg, you're goin' DOWN! DOWN!"
But in the waning minutes, with the Bulls trailing by 20 points and lofting one errant three-pointer after another, the same fans were shouting: "Hey Greg, transfer, baby! Save our school!"
Georgetown led 34-17 at the half and shot even better (65 percent) in the second period.
Said Heath, clearly humbled by the resounding defeat: "That's not a 5-8 team. Georgetown in probably every other major conference in going to be one of the top three in the league. That's the problem with our conference."