By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
NEW YORK, March 10 -- Throughout the era Jessie Sapp will remember most fondly from his college career -- that glorious span in which Georgetown rebuilt itself as a force to be feared in the Big East -- the Hoyas lost just two games in three years at Madison Square Garden.
On Tuesday, they lost their second in eight days -- the latest sending Georgetown crashing out of the Big East tournament in the opening round for only the second time in school history.
After leading much of the first half against 13th-seeded St. John's, Georgetown stumbled down the stretch and fell, 64-59, a victim of the poor decision-making and errant shooting that has plagued the team all season.
Sapp, who wears his love of his native New York proudly, put the Hoyas in position for a comeback by sinking a three-pointer that put Georgetown ahead, 49-46, with 6 minutes 4 seconds remaining.
But St. John's was the surer shooting squad down the stretch. And a miscue on Georgetown's final possession led to a last-ditch attempt to force overtime. The three-point attempt, by Nikita Mescheriakov, clanged off the backboard with three seconds remaining.
The locker room was silent afterward, with players slumped on benches, not talking to one another and not particularly wanting to talk to anyone else.
"It's tough to lose in your home town," Sapp said. "We played hard. We never gave up. I'm not satisfied with the loss, but I'm satisfied by the effort . . . [But] it just doesn't add up."
Sophomore guard Chris Wright, who battled as fiercely as anyone on the court and finished with a team-high 14 points, shared the sentiment.
"We threw that game away," Wright said. "We had a chance to make a play, and we didn't execute. Not just the last play at 15 seconds -- but plays before that, defensively."
Freshman center Greg Monroe, who fouled out with 1:34 remaining, was forced to look on from the sideline at what had become a familiar scene this season, with turnovers, mental breakdowns and poor shooting spelling the Hoyas' undoing.
In ceremonies after the loss, Monroe was honored as the Big East's rookie of the year. But neither the trophy, topped by a gold-plated basketball, nor the applause made him feel any better about the disappointing end to the season.
While St. John's (16-16) advances to Wednesday's second round, Georgetown (16-14) is left to contemplate a season of unrealized potential and await a committee's verdict about whether the Hoyas are worthy even of an NIT bid.
It was just last week that Georgetown lost to St. John's in overtime at the Garden. That loss crushed the Hoyas' hope of getting an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament. Tuesday's loss cost them a shot, however improbable, of winning the tournament outright.
With three McDonald's all-Americans on the roster, Georgetown opened the season 10-1 and climbed as high as ninth in the national rankings before losing 13 of their last 19 games.
Both Georgetown and St. John's shot poorly at the outset. It was an ugly, physical game, with the officials content to let the players muscle each other around.
Monroe held his own amid the fray, blocking a shot to open play and hitting a pair of layups to put the Hoyas up 15-11.
Junior forward DaJuan Summers (nine points) wasn't as effective, drawing three fouls while scoring no points in the first 12 minutes. He spent the rest of the half on the bench.
Wright tried carrying the offense on his own, slashing to the basket and drawing fouls.
St. John's got its offense from two players, Paris Horne and D.J. Kennedy, who combined for 27 of the team's 30 first-half points. Led by the pair, St. John's closed the half on a 7-2 run to take a 30-28 lead into the break.
Wright opened the second half with a jumper that knotted the score at 30.
Wright drew his fourth foul with St. John's ahead 40-35 and more than 13 minutes left to play. And the Hoyas' poise dissolved.
Henry Sims fired a pass directly into the hands of a St. John's player. Julian Vaughn did the same on the next possession, and forward Sean Evans raced down the court for a dunk that gave the Red Storm its biggest lead of the game, 43-37, and fired up the partisan New York crowd.
Coach John Thompson III said he needed time to digest the loss before analyzing it in a meaningful way, settling on "extremely disappointing" as the most apt description.
As he paced a hallway outside the team's locker room in solitude, his father, John Thompson Jr., who won six Big East tournament titles during his tenure at Georgetown, was left to explain.
"Everybody played hard, but you can't skip growth and maturity," the elder Thompson said. "You get discouraged when you're coaching. But us old guys who've been in this know that what they did is what they should have done: They're young, and they're inexperienced. That's just how it is."