By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 8, 2009
With nothing appreciable at stake, the fans who spurned Washington's first beautiful Saturday of the year to attend Georgetown's regular season finale did so, primarily, to bid farewell to senior guard Jessie Sapp.
They stood to honor him during pregame ceremonies. They rose again when Sapp entered the game against DePaul after roughly three minutes had elapsed. And throughout the ragged display of basketball, they hoisted hand-lettered signs that read: "Goodbye Jessie!" "Thank You For Everything" and "We Will Always Remember."
And with a 48-40 victory, Georgetown brought an end to a regular season that nearly everyone who bleeds blue and gray would just as soon forget.
Despite a heralded recruiting class, this Georgetown squad paid more dearly for the loss of last year's senior class than anticipated, plagued by turnovers, halfhearted rebounding and erratic shooting.
As a result, the Hoyas fell far short of even modest expectations, finishing with more regular season losses (13) than any Hoya team in John Thompson III's tenure, which began in 2004-05.
After climbing to ninth in the national rankings after upsetting second-ranked Connecticut, Georgetown tumbled from the polls. Now, barring an improbable run to the championship in this week's Big East tournament, which would entail five victories in five games, Georgetown will likely miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since Thompson's inaugural season.
"Obviously, when you look at the numbers -- where we are -- we wish we had a few more wins in there," Thompson said. "But it is what it is."
After DePaul scored the opening basket, Georgetown never trailed yesterday. But the victory was hardly cause for showboating.
Georgetown (16-13, 7-11) was the 18th consecutive team to beat DePaul (8-23, 0-18). And after leading by 14 in the first half, the Hoyas twice allowed the Blue Demons to tie the score.
The afternoon began with good feelings, as Sapp, the team's sole scholarship senior, and walk-on Bryon Jansen were brought to midcourt to receive a silver bowl and the crowd's applause on senior day.
While Jansen appeared in just 15 games during his two seasons with the team, Sapp has been a key figure from the moment he arrived, playing in all 33 games as a freshman and starting all but one of 71 games his next two seasons.
As the Hoyas' fortunes slumped in January, Thompson relegated Sapp to the role of a sixth man. And with Sapp's family in attendance for senior day, that's how Thompson left it -- starting Nikita Mescheriakov instead of Sapp.
"Just decided to stick with what we do," Thompson said when asked whether he'd given thought to starting Sapp instead.
Georgetown bolted to a 12-2 lead, with DePaul unable to hit much of anything. The Blue Demons didn't make their second field goal until 11 minutes into the game, shooting 1 of 15 to open play.
But with Georgetown leading 18-4, DePaul went on an 18-6 run that cut the Hoyas' margin to two, 24-22.
DePaul's Will Walker (20 points) knotted the score with 15:43 remaining, and tied it up again at 26 after DaJuan Summers turned the ball over a fourth time.
The Hoyas' fortunes finally turned when Summers abandoned his three-point attempts in favor of closer-range jumpers and muscling the ball inside. He scored two consecutive baskets and helped Chris Wright to a third with a smart assist to put the Hoyas up 40-31, prompting DePaul Coach Jerry Wainwright to call a timeout.
The game's final minutes consisted of a procession of Georgetown players trudging to the free throw line.
Summers led the Hoyas in scoring, pouring in 13 of his 15 points in the second half. Freshman center Greg Monroe tied Austin Freeman with a team-high eight rebounds, but Monroe didn't take a shot in the second half and finished with six points.
Freeman, who sat out Tuesday's overtime loss at St. John's with a hip pointer, scored the Hoyas' first basket yesterday but didn't score again. Limping in stretches, he finished with two points in 19 minutes' work.
With 25 seconds remaining, the crowd started chanting: "Jessie Sapp! Jessie Sapp!"
And Thompson called a final timeout with roughly eight seconds left so Sapp could walk off to a standing ovation -- his third of the night.
"I felt appreciated," Sapp said. "I felt they noticed things -- the little things I've done. I wasn't ever a big-time scorer in the program, but they appreciate me for the things I've done."
The Hoyas have a chance to avenge the St. John's loss, opening the Big East tournament against them Tuesday at 2 p.m.