By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 4, 2010; D01
The opponent didn't boast national championship credentials. The crowd of 12,207, well shy of filling Verizon Center, lacked Washington's power elite status.
And seventh-ranked Georgetown, playing like a shadow of the team that had walloped Duke just four days earlier, crashed down to earth with a thud Wednesday, suffering a 72-64 defeat at the hands of South Florida.
A certain amount of emotional letdown might have been allowed following the Hoyas' thumping of Duke last Saturday, when it seemed as if Georgetown was at the center of the basketball universe, with President Obama looking on approvingly from a courtside seat.
But after taking a 13-point lead against South Florida in the first half of Wednesday's game, which marked the Hoyas' return to Big East competition, it appeared that Georgetown had another victory well in hand.
Thanks to a spirited defensive effort by Jason Clark, Georgetown had muzzled South Florida's shooting star, Dominique Jones, preventing the Bulls' leading scorer from scoring a single point until nearly 12 minutes had elapsed.
Meantime, Georgetown (16-5, 6-4) was shooting 60 percent from the field, with sophomore center Greg Monroe on a torrid pace.
But after returning from the halftime break with a 35-26 lead, Georgetown let its intensity slip away, and South Florida stormed back with a vengeance.
Jones, held to seven first-half points, finished with a game-high 29.
But the game hardly turned on the junior guard's offensive pyrotechnics.
Georgetown played poorly in multiple facets of the game.
The Hoyas, who had shot 71.7 percent from the floor against Duke, shot just 36 percent in the second half against South Florida. They were woefully off-target from the free throw line when it mattered most, hitting just 11 of 22 overall and missing five in a row in the waning minutes.
And the wheels came off entirely after Monroe was slapped with a second and third foul on consecutive possessions early in the second half. While Monroe stayed in the game until he eventually fouled out with 2:52 remaining, he was rendered nearly toothless.
Georgetown Coach John Thompson III played down the impact of Monroe's foul trouble, saying simply, "We couldn't get into a flow."
And he took pains to credit South Florida.
"They came here, they stayed focused," Thompson said of South Florida (15-7, 5-5), which, with the victory, has won more than four conference games in a single season for the first time since joining the Big East in 2005-06.
South Florida Coach Stan Heath called it "the best win in our school history."
"I have no idea if they were enjoying Duke or looking at [Saturday's upcoming game against] Villanova," Heath said of Georgetown. "But we played really well. We played really hard. We became the more aggressive team in the second half."
Monroe, asked whether he or his teammates had been distracted, said: "I don't know exactly what happened tonight. We definitely weren't looking backwards [at Duke], and we definitely weren't looking forwards [to Villanova]. As a team, we have to be more focused to win games like this.
Monroe and guard Austin Freeman led the Hoyas with 21 points apiece -- the only members of the squad to score in double figures.
There was plenty of reason for the Hoyas to key on Jones, who scored 37 in the Bulls' upset of Pittsburgh on Sunday. And Clark did well early, despite giving up two inches and 45 pounds to South Florida's prolific scorer.
"I'm pulling out my hair -- all the hair I have," Heath, who is bald, said when asked about Jones's early offensive struggles. "I'm thinking, 'What play can we run?' because if we don't get him involved, we're done. We're toast.
After falling behind, 9-8, Georgetown went on an 11-2 run. Freeman hit his first three-pointer and drew a foul in the process.
Chris Wright (eight points) hit his first basket seconds into the second half and struck again on a great pass from Freeman. But a calamitous stretch followed in which Monroe picked up two quick fouls, and South Florida reeled off seven unanswered points.
The Bulls' Mike Mercer tied it at 42-42 from the free throw line.
Jones hit a big-time three-pointer to put South Florida up, 46-44.
And Georgetown turnovers and errant free throws down the stretch sealed the upset.