By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 21, 2010; 12:50 AM
CHARLESTON, S.C. - Chris Wright broke the hearts of North Carolina State fans four years ago when he pulled back his oral commitment after the Wolfpack made a coaching change. On Sunday night, the Georgetown guard can disappoint them again when the teams meet for the first time since 1989 in the championship game of the Charleston Classic.
On Saturday, Wright played down the personal significance of facing North Carolina State, but the game's importance for the 20th-ranked Hoyas cannot be ignored.
For the Hoyas, a win over an ACC team on the upswing will be seen as proof that there is life after Greg Monroe, while a loss might be perceived as a sign that they remain in transition. On the opposite bench, Wolfpack Coach Sidney Lowe is under pressure to guide his team to the NCAA tournament for the first time in his five seasons, and a win over a Big East contender could be extremely valuable.
"Yeah, I've thought about what could have been different," Wright said when asked if he's ever wondered, 'What if?' "But I'm happy to be at Georgetown. I love Georgetown. I also have a lot of respect for N.C. State. The game is going to be intense."
If the Hoyas are to prevail, they'll need another strong performance from Wright, who has been asked by Coach John Thompson III to strike a balance between scoring and facilitating this season.
"For us to have success, there's a balance between what we're going to need from Chris," Thompson said after practice Saturday. "We're going to need Chris to score points, but he's going to have to get his teammates shots and create opportunities for his teammates more so than last year.
"He has to make sure that he's managing the game and we're getting the kind of shots we want," he added, "and that we're getting the ball to the people we want to take those shots."
After four games, Wright is averaging about two shots less than he did as a junior, while he's already surpassed his career high for assists after dishing out 12 against Coastal Carolina. Through Friday's contests, in fact, Wright was third among Big East point guards in assists at 6.5 per game, ranking just behind Villanova's Maalik Wayns (7.3) and Syracuse's Scoop Jardine (6.7).
"I take a lot of pride in assists," said Wright, who also seems to be playing with more patience and composure. "I take a lot of joy and excitement from seeing my teammates get baskets. Everybody wants to score, but somebody's got to pass them the ball. I have no problem with that and I enjoy it. It's me understanding that I need to help other people score, and it will help everyone in the end."
Wright, however, can't do it alone against the Wolfpack, who sent George Mason to the loser's bracket with a 78-65 victory Friday. Jim Larranaga and the Patriots will face Wofford in the third-place game early Sunday evening.
North Carolina State roared past George Mason late despite missing its best player, forward Tracy Smith, who had arthroscopic surgery for a left knee injury and is expected to miss three weeks.
Smith's absence may turn out to be a break for the Hoyas. But as George Mason discovered, the Wolfpack is deep - and big - in the paint. C.J. Leslie (a 6-foot-8 freshman), Richard Howell (a 6-9 sophomore) and DeShawn Painter (a 6-9 sophomore) will certainly test Hoyas forwards Julian Vaughn, Henry Sims and Nate Lubick.
"It's something we're going to have to deal with," Thompson said. "With Tracy being out, they might actually be taller. They don't get smaller, they get bigger. That is the strong point of their team."
Wright, meanwhile, could match up against high-scoring point guard Ryan Harrow, who scored a team-high 14 points against George Mason. He also figures to hear it from the enormous contingent of red-and-white-clad fans who have packed Carolina First Arena during the tournament's first two days.
"That doesn't matter," Wright said. "As long as we win, I'll be happy."