By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010; D03
Among the NBA scouts who have become fixtures at Georgetown's Big East games the season, sophomore center Greg Monroe commands the bulk of the attention, with his long limbs and exceptional passing acuity. But in the eyes of Monroe, who is less concerned with his NBA future at the moment than he is with Georgetown's present, junior point guard Chris Wright is the Hoya who matters most.
"When he's scoring, and everybody else is doing what they do, we win. Point blank," Monroe said of Wright. "The numbers don't lie. So if he's having an off night, then we're most likely having an off night as a team."
Monroe's assessment isn't meant to pile added pressure on Wright, who has embraced his role as the Hoyas' floor general this season. It's simply to acknowledge what has become increasingly obvious.
As the Hoyas' chief ballhandler, the 6-foot-1, 208-pound Wright bears responsibilities that extend far beyond scoring. But almost without exception, his scoring output has been a barometer of Georgetown's performance through this up-and-down season.
When Wright has reached double digits in scoring, the Hoyas are 16-0. When he has been held to fewer than 10 points, Georgetown is 2-6.
"His scoring is definitely a part of how we win," Monroe adds. "And it's something that we need to win."
The Hoyas will need Wright in top form Thursday at Verizon Center, where they hope to avenge their worst loss of the season against Big East rival Syracuse (24-2, 11-2).
When the teams met Jan. 25 at the Carrier Dome, Georgetown bolted to a 14-0 lead before getting thumped, 73-56. The stat sheet was riddled with evidence of just where the Hoyas fell short. They turned over the ball 19 times. They were lax on defense, allowing Syracuse to shoot 53.3 percent -- the only time an opponent has shot better than 50 percent against them all season. And they were weak on the boards, outrebounded 33-24.
The Hoyas' false sense of their own ability after a feel-good start also played a role.
"We went up 14-0, and we got real relaxed," said guard Austin Freeman, who scored a game-high 23 points. "They took advantage of that. It was hard to come back from that, especially playing in the Dome, too, when they had all the momentum."
It didn't help the Hoyas' cause that Monroe fouled out with 6 minutes 27 seconds remaining in the game, his eight points undercut by six turnovers.
Wright, an emotional player with a flair for slashing past defenders, also struggled, held to seven points on 3-of-10 shooting.
And Georgetown's bench was no match for Syracuse's, with Orange backups Kris Joseph and Scoop Jardine outscoring the Hoyas' reserves, 24-0.
Like last month, both teams are ranked among the nation's top 10 entering Thursday's game, although each slid after losses to unranked teams on Sunday. Syracuse is ranked No. 5 after getting upset at home by Louisville. Georgetown (18-6, 8-5) dropped to No. 10 after falling at Rutgers.
Wright, battling a cold, wasn't his best against the Scarlet Knights, finishing with six points on 2-of-8 shooting. But none of his teammates is pointing a finger over the 71-68 loss, which ultimately turned on a defensive breakdown that enabled Rutgers's Dane Miller to grab an offensive rebound for a tip-in with 19 seconds remaining.
"It's a team effort," junior forward Julian Vaughn said. "The whole team didn't do well. You can't blame a loss on one player if he doesn't play well. If he's not having one of his better games, people need to be able to pick up the slack."
Still, Wright holds himself accountable.
"I should have been more of a vocal leader out there," said Wright, who played 36 minutes despite his illness. "I feel like I kind of let my team down. I was confident the whole game that we were going to come out with a win."
Thursday offers a shot at redemption, and Wright, who says he's nearly over his cold, was all smiles Tuesday as players prepared to meet with Coach John Thompson III to break down the Rutgers loss and review strategy against Syracuse.
No one expects tactical wrinkles from the Orange on Thursday. Syracuse's strengths are well documented: a stubborn 2-3 zone defense and uncommon size at every position.
For Monroe, the imperative is staying out of foul trouble against 6-9 forwards Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku while not holding back, as per Thompson's directive, at either end of the court.
Said Monroe of Syracuse's front line: "They're big. They're strong. They're skilled players. They're good. And they know everything that needs to be done. It's tough playing two big men of that caliber and having to worry about them at all times."
As the point man behind the Hoyas' offense, Wright has a somewhat longer to-do list.
"We have to limit our turnovers, limit their transition buckets and force them to play half-court offense and force them to use the whole shot clock and push them out of their comfort zone," Wright said. "I think we're going to come out with a lot of energy, be very intense, get the crowd into it and feed off of that."