By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 14, 2009
NEW ORLEANS -- When last seen on a basketball court, the Georgetown Hoyas were trudging to the locker room, bounced by Baylor in the opening round of the National Invitation Tournament to bring a miserable season to an ignoble end.
Friday's season opener at Tulane brought yet another road game against a plucky opponent and, with it, a chance to set a more promising tone for a new season.
This time, Georgetown won handily, 74-58, with center Greg Monroe, whose decision to return for his sophomore season is largely why the Hoyas opened the season with the nation's No. 20 ranking, pacing the scoring with 18 points.
He was joined in double figures by junior guard Austin Freeman, who showed versatility seldom on display last season, adding 16 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists.
Sophomore guard Jason Clark made three three-pointers and finished with 13 points. And junior guard Chris Wright added 11, offsetting his four turnovers with five steals.
Though the final score was lopsided, the game wasn't without its glitches from the perspective of Coach John Thompson III.
After surging to a 21-11 lead, the Hoyas let their defensive intensity lapse and started rushing their shots. In no time Tulane reeled off an 8-3 run that pared the deficit to five points.
And with a jumper by David Booker (14 points), the Green Wave pulled within three, 30-27, with 1 minute 22 seconds remaining in the first half.
But unlike so many occasions last season, this Hoya squad stormed back stronger in the second half.
The Hoyas regained the discipline they showed at the start of the game and began taking smarter shots. With Wright and Freeman both finding their shooting touch, the Hoyas' lead was quickly back to double digits.
Better still, they contested Tulane's shots with more vigor, getting spirited defense from junior guard Julian Vaughn and Monroe, who blocked four shots between them.
"I like what I saw," said Thompson, who can be maddeningly measured in assessing his teams. "I like the way we responded -- the way we can come back in certain situations."
Still, Thompson was quick to note that it was only one game in what promises to be a long, grueling season, with nonconference games against three top-15 teams (Butler, Washington and Duke) interspersed with the Big East season.
"I'm extremely happy with the win over a quality opponent and a well-coached team," Thompson said. "That being said, we have a long way to go."
It has been nearly a decade since Tulane had beaten a ranked team. And it wasn't to be Friday night, despite a spirited fight and a hostile, cramped arena that, for a time at least, worked in the favor of the Green Wave.
"What's a Hoya?" Tulane students bellowed from the stands in 3,600-seat Fogelman Arena, scarcely bigger than Georgetown's McDonough Gymnasium, and, "Our football team's better than yours!" before devolving into more profane tirades once the score got out of hand.
The game marked a homecoming for Monroe, a New Orleans area native. His supporters filled one corner of the gym and brought hand-lettered signs and streamers to welcome home Louisiana's 2007 and 2008 high school player of the year.
With Clark and Vaughn joining the starting lineup, the Hoyas started off impressively at both ends of the court. They sank seven of the first nine shots they attempted, while Tulane was a hapless 0 for 8 from the floor, getting its first point from the free-throw line after more than five minutes of play had elapsed.
With Georgetown leading 13-7, freshman Hollis Thompson made his competitive college debut and drained a quick jumper from the corner, just shy of the three-point line.
It was a rough opening half for Wright, who missed his first three shots and committed four of Georgetown's nine turnovers in the period.
But for Hoyas fans who struggled through last season's 16-15 disappointment, there were encouraging signs all around. Among them: Vaughn may provide the physical inside presence that the Hoyas lacked last season; Thompson flashed a promising shooting touch in his limited minutes; and Freeman, notably lighter than last season, boasts a more explosive first step.
If there's one lesson the Hoyas should have learned last season, it's that a feel-good start to the season doesn't guarantee anything.