By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Georgetown had nearly every possible psychic advantage working in its favor as players trotted on court for yesterday's critical game against 10th-ranked Marquette.
· A near-capacity Verizon Center crowd that included eight players from the 1984 national championship team.
· A videotaped message from Patrick Ewing, who led the Hoyas to that glorious achievement.
· A spirited student contingent, populated with blue wigs, pompons and a row of bare chests that spelled out "WE BELIEVE!"
· Newfound confidence from a rout of South Florida earlier in the week.
· And the knowledge that a victory was all but essential to salvaging hopes of an NCAA tournament berth.
But no amount of good will or motivation was enough to fend off Marquette's furious charge over the final eight minutes, and Georgetown fell, 78-72, despite a gutsy effort and six-point lead in the second half.
The Hoyas' highlights -- two electrifying dunks by freshman center Greg Monroe, a monster block by freshman Jason Clark and a third consecutive team-high scoring performance by sophomore Chris Wright -- were of little solace as hopes of a late-season rally evaporated in the game's waning minutes.
And as the clock ticked down, dispirited fans headed toward the exits. A once-promising season, it seemed, is lost.
Georgetown (14-11, 5-9) now must sweep its four remaining games -- two against ranked teams -- to finish at .500 in the Big East, considered a minimal threshold for NCAA consideration. Monday brings a home game against No. 7 Louisville. Next weekend, a trip to No. 12 Villanova.
Coach John Thompson III, who has steadfastly refused to take stock of this wild season, stepped briefly out of character during his postgame remarks.
Asked if this had been his most trying season since arriving at Georgetown, Thompson interrupted before the questioner had finished his thought.
"Period!" Thompson said. "Not just at Georgetown. Yes, it has. But we'll get through this. [Coaches are] going to go to work tonight. [Players] are going to come to work tomorrow. And we're going to work hard."
It had been a riveting game, with the lead changing hands 12 times before the momentum shifted in Marquette's favor to stay with eight minutes remaining.
Wright paced the Hoyas with 17 points and four assists. Austin Freeman contributed 16 on 7-of-10 shooting. But DaJuan Summers's erratic play was costly; the junior forward finished with more turnovers (five) than rebounds (four) and a modest 12 points.
Marquette's stars were no surprise. They were the same veterans who torched Georgetown in last month's 94-82 victory over the Hoyas. The trio wasn't as prolific yesterday, with Georgetown playing far better defense. But Wesley Matthews still managed 23 points, including five three-pointers. Jerel McNeal added 22; Lazar Hayward had 17.
The first half was played at fever pitch, with Georgetown matching Marquette's pace and shot-making to the delight of the crowd of 17,686. Both teams shot better than 60 percent in the first 10 minutes, and the period ended with the score knotted at 44 points each.
Georgetown seized the upper hand to open the second half, with the 6-foot-11 Monroe soaring to throw down a massive dunk and Freeman following with one of his own. A three-pointer by Summers put Georgetown ahead, 53-47, as Marquette's shooting went cold.
With their jumpers not falling, Marquette ramped up its defensive pressure and the Hoyas came unglued, turning over the ball four times in a six-minute span. And Marquette (23-4, 12-2) converted nearly every gaffe into fast-break points.
The teams swapped the lead back and forth until Matthews drilled a three-pointer with eight minutes remaining to put Marquette up, 61-59.
Meantime, the Hoyas lost their long-range touch. They made 7 of 11 three-point attempts in the first half, but missed six consecutive attempts in the second half.
Marquette's shooting percentage also plunged in the second half, but the Golden Eagles battled harder on the boards to create second and third attempts.
Said Marquette Coach Buzz Williams, who is having an outstanding first season in the Big East, "Over the last 10 minutes of the game we were hitting on all cylinders at both ends of the floor."