By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
NEW YORK, March 3 -- Georgetown's hope of rebounding from its erratic season to squeak into the NCAA tournament was all but snuffed out in dispiriting fashion on Tuesday.
And the young team had only itself to blame after squandering a 15-point, second-half lead and then proceeding to stumble its way through overtime against St. John's before falling, 59-56, at Madison Square Garden.
In many ways, the game was a microcosm of the season -- maddeningly uneven, hard on the nerves, marked by strong defensive play in stretches but undermined by costly mistakes when it mattered most.
With the loss, Georgetown falls to 6-11 in Big East play. And even a victory in Saturday's regular season finale against DePaul won't be enough to sufficiently mask the ugly statistic in the eyes of the NCAA basketball tournament's selection committee.
That almost certainly leaves Georgetown one option for making the field of 65: Winning the Big East tournament, which begins next Tuesday. It is an unfathomable task for a team that has failed to win consecutive games since mid-January.
"That is stating the obvious," Coach John Thompson III said, asked about the significance of winning the tournament championship. "Every game, we have to win. We have to win."
Apart from that, Thompson said it was impossible to offer perspective about areas in which his team has progressed and fallen short after such a disappointing loss.
But a few statistics tell the story, and neither was a revelation to anyone who cheered the Hoyas' 10-1 start and has agonized over the slide that has followed.
Georgetown was outrebounded by St. John's, 46-25. And its free throw shooting was abysmal (9 of 16) -- particularly at critical moments.
While some will surely argue that Georgetown is a far better team than its 15-13 record suggests -- pointing to the fact that the Hoyas have played a grueling schedule -- Tuesday's late-game collapse suggested otherwise.
After a first half in which the lead rocked back and forth, Georgetown opened the second half playing ferocious defense. With big men Greg Monroe, Henry Sims and Julian Vaughn swatting away shot after shot under the basket, St. John's went more than 13 minutes without a field goal.
In the meantime, Georgetown romped to a 14-0 run, bolting to its biggest lead of the game, 45-30, with 10 minutes 41 seconds left.
But what looked like a victory unraveled in overtime, which began with the score knotted at 51.
Nikita Mescheriakov missed a pair of free throws with Georgetown leading, 56-55, and 1:35 remaining. D.J. Kennedy replied with a pair from the stripe to retake the lead for St. John's. And Monroe (18 points) turned the ball over -- a gaffe that Justin Burrell exploited for a backboard-rattling dunk with nine seconds left.
DaJuan Summers (10 points) took the final shot that Thompson drew up in the timeout with 2.9 seconds remaining -- a three-pointer that clanged off the rim.
There were signs that Georgetown had found its identity in toppling 10th-ranked Villanova last weekend. But each step of progress of late has been followed by a step backwards.
While Thompson clearly is at a loss for a solution, he defended his players' effort and intensity in Tuesday's game, despite the fact that Georgetown managed just two field goals in the final 15 minutes.
"We didn't fall asleep," Thompson said. "We didn't shut it down. They continued to get second shots after we got stops, and we didn't."
Rebounding, of course, gives a team that opportunity. But Georgetown has not made it a priority this season and paid for it dearly.
The game started poorly for the Hoyas, with Summers picking up two quick fouls, which earned him a spot on the bench for all but seven minutes of the first half.
Austin Freeman, who averages 11.9 points, never even stepped out of his warmups after suffering a hip pointer in practice on Monday night.
Senior Jessie Sapp started in Freeman's place instead and was first to put the Hoyas on the board, swishing a three-pointer in the first minute.
St. John's (15-15, 6-11) pulled even at 29, but Monroe drove to the hoop for a layup as the buzzer sounded to give the Hoyas a 31-29 lead at the half.
Paris Horne, who along with Rob Thomas had a team-high 16 points for St. John's, finally broke the Red Storm's field-goal drought in the second half with 6:50 remaining.
All it took was a few empty possessions by Georgetown, and St. John's was back in the game, reeling off eight unanswered points.
The Hoyas' effort to win in regulation went awry on a turnover. Monroe fired a pass to Chris Wright, poised to shoot a 25-footer from the sideline. But the ball, fired hard and fast, dribbled out of Wright's hands.