By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 28, 2010; D05
Both 11th-ranked Georgetown and Notre Dame were without their leading scorers when the ball was tipped on Saturday at Verizon Center. Both teams needed a victory to bolster their standing in the highly competitive Big East.
But Notre Dame did a far better job compensating for the absence of its star, Luke Harangody, who has a bone bruise in his right knee. Meanwhile, Georgetown sputtered with its scoring machine, Austin Freeman, limited to 23 minutes and five points by an apparent illness.
As a result, Georgetown staggered to one of its more confounding losses of the season, 78-64. The Hoyas never were in a fight they should have handled with relative ease.
With the defeat, the Hoyas (19-8, 9-7) lapsed back into a troubling pattern of following a gutsy victory (in this case, Tuesday's comeback at Louisville) with an inexplicable defeat.
Moreover, the uninspired nature of the Hoyas' performance Saturday raises questions about how far this gifted squad can go in the Big East tournament, which starts March 9, and how deserving it is of a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament.
"To say today is disappointing would be an understatement. It was extremely disappointing," said Coach John Thompson III, who acknowledged Notre Dame's impressive shooting as a contributing reason for the loss. The Fighting Irish hit 57.1 percent of their shots from the floor (71.4 percent in the second half).
Freeman was given intravenous fluids shortly before tip-off, Thompson said, but did not start, sitting on the bench with his head buried under a towel while freshman Hollis Thompson assumed his spot in the lineup.
When an ashen-faced Freeman finally trudged onto the court with just less than nine minutes remaining in the first half and Georgetown trailing 19-14, he was of dubious benefit, understandably slow-footed and off-target, lofting air balls on two of the five shots he attempted in his 23 minutes of work.
Nonetheless, Coach Thompson leaned on him even more in the second half, playing Freeman for 15 of the period's 20 minutes.
Regardless of Freeman's fitness, the Hoyas brought the loss on themselves as a team by falling short in multiple ways.
Georgetown was still in the game at the half, trailing 31-27. But unlike Tuesday's comeback at Louisville, the Hoyas came out no sharper in the second half. Instead they played with sloppiness and malaise, careless with the ball on crucial possessions and inattentive to rebounding.
Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey conceded that Georgetown wasn't the same team without a healthy Freeman, who had been averaging a team-high 17.5 points per game. That said, Brey noted that the Irish faced a setback of comparable significance, with Harangody, the nation's second-leading scorer, unable to suit up for a fourth consecutive game.
"It was even because we didn't have 'Gody," Brey said. "It's a push. . . . After what we've been through, I'm a firm believer of survival of the fittest in this very cruel league."
With two games remaining in the regular season, Notre Dame (19-10, 8-8) is thrilled to have reached .500 in the Big East, Brey said. Georgetown, by contrast, sits at an underachieving 9-7, with a difficult road game against No. 8 West Virginia looming Monday.
Saturday's game featured its share of momentum swings, even though Georgetown never led after just 2 minutes 25 seconds had elapsed. But Notre Dame managed to sustain its scoring runs, primarily because of the clutch shooting of Ben Hansbrough (younger brother of former North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough), who had a game-high 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Meanwhile, the Hoyas' offensive spurts were just that: spurts.
The Hoyas' seeming refusal to rebound didn't help. At one point in the first half, Notre Dame had 10 offensive rebounds to Georgetown's one.
Asked what explained the imbalance, Thompson said flatly: "I'm not sure. That was the discussion at halftime."
After trailing by 12 with 12:31 remaining, Georgetown pulled within four, 50-46, with 8:37 left.
But Notre Dame answered with a 15-3 run, and Georgetown couldn't muster much after that.
Georgetown was led by sophomore center Greg Monroe's 15 points, with Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson adding 12 each.