By Sally Jenkins
Friday, March 19, 2010; D08
At their best, the Georgetown Hoyas are the antithesis of madness. When a game is all frenetic action and emotion, they are methodical and precise. But at their worst, that deliberateness becomes a liability, and coolness turns to lethargy. The Hoyas were at their worst against Ohio in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. It was mechanics vs. inspiration, method against pure flash.
If the NCAA tournament sells chaos theory, the Hoyas were gravity. They played the game with thoughtfulness and control, orchestrated from the sideline by Coach John Thompson III, his usual calm and exacting self in a dark suit and a blue pocket kerchief, peeking out neat as an envelope. They passed, they back-cut, they reversed. They ran the Princeton offense as if was a matter of principle, and not just basketball. They treated the game like Latin translation. You keep waiting for them to quote Livy.
They didn't play poorly. But they trailed from the very outset, were down 48-36 at halftime, and lost by 14 points, 97-83.
Now, I'm not Pete Carril, or even his niece. But you don't have to be a student of the game to know that if you're going to be such a purposeful and premeditated team, you'd better be monster defenders. They weren't. The Hoyas gave up 97 points to a team that had a losing record in the Mid-American Conference. To repeat: that's 97 points, to a team that went 7-9 and was seeded ninth in its own league.
Even had they survived Ohio, how far were these Hoyas really going to go in a tournament in which the dance floor is slick, and a fast band is playing? And in which there are scads of teams with players as offensively predatory, and opportunistic as the Bobcats?
Ohio guards D.J. Cooper and Armon Bassett were like insects that kept stinging. They were darting and difficult to track, and utterly without conscience -- they would shoot it from anywhere. They penetrated and kicked, took it one-on-four, and if a shot wasn't there, they created one out of thin air. They were altogether quicker with the ball, hanging in the air, shape-shifting, ambidextrous. Bassett finished with 32 points, including 5-of-10 shooting from three-point range, and Cooper added 23, making 5 of 8 from beyond the arc.
"They were spectacular, to tell you the truth," Thompson said. "They handled everything we threw at them."
What's the "right" shot these days? The Hoyas were all about the right shot, they were unselfish and their passes were meticulous, with the result that they shot the ball well, far better than decently -- 50 percent for the game and 56 percent in the second half as they clawed back within seven points. But Georgetown couldn't close that crucial gap, because it had neither explosion, nor the ability play shut-down defense. Chris Wright, with 28 points, tried to push the tempo, but he gave up as many big baskets as he scored. The Hoyas weren't going to quit. But they weren't going anywhere, either. They just kept at it, slow and steady. Like soil erosion. Eventually even Greg Monroe, the Hoyas' most forceful and alive player on both ends, seemed stymied. He was twice called for walks, and twice for charges while trying to find his way to the basket, as he finished with 19 points.
"You can't wait and expect the other team to go in a slump," Monroe said. "You have to make plays on your own. They were hot tonight, it's no secret. They were making shots. They stepped up tonight. We couldn't do anything to stop them."
The Hoyas simply could not keep Bassett or Cooper in front of them. They lost every footrace to the basket. The guards played cat and mouse with their quickness time after time. Jab steps would either become layups, or threes fluttering through the net. They hit everything, pull-ups, hand-in-their-face fadeaways.
"I don't think you can think about it," Bassett said afterward. "When you think you're open, you think you can make the shot, you let it go."
Cooper echoed: "We just step up if we're open and just take the shot with confidence and knock it down."
Not to take anything away from the Princeton scheme, but around Friday's water coolers, basketball fans are going to be talking about the Ohio offense, not the Princeton offense. Because let's face it: The game plan the underdogs put on the floor was far and away more daring and exciting to watch. If the Hoyas take a lesson from this loss, apart from the value of defense in postseason, perhaps it should be the value of playing with a little more abandon.
"You can sit and talk tactics and strategy and at the end of the day sometimes it just comes down to players making plays," Thompson said. "And those two kids, over and over again, made plays, regardless of how we approached it."