By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 3, 2010; 11:17 PM
Two constants have defined Georgetown's start to the season: impressive wins, and three-pointers being made at an astonishing rate.
Austin Freeman and the No. 16 Hoyas (7-0) are connecting on 44.9 percent of their shots from long range, which ranks fifth nationally and second among power-conference programs behind only Washington (45.5 percent). It also has them on pace to break the school's all-time mark for three-point accuracy: 39.3 percent in 1988-89.
But it's not just the Hoyas' efficiency from behind the arc that's noteworthy as they prepare to host Utah State (5-1) on Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center. Georgetown also is attempting eight more three-pointers per game than last season, when center Greg Monroe dominated the offense, and they're making 4.5 more on average. In all, 41 percent of the shots the Hoyas have taken this season have come from behind the arc, compared with 30.3 percent last season.
"It's not by design," Coach John Thompson III said Thursday. "It's not like we've said, 'Hey, because of our personnel this year we need to take a lot of threes.' It's what the defense has been giving us [and] we have some very good shooters."
Three of them, in fact. Freeman, the Hoyas' leading scorer at 21.7 points per game, has made 25 of 44 of his three-point attempts (56.8 percent), compared with 10 of 21 through the first seven games last season (47.6 percent). Jason Clark and Chris Wright, meantime, have made 45.2 and 43.2 percent of their shots, respectively, from long range.
The effect that's had on Georgetown's early-season success was never more apparent than in Tuesday's win over No. 9 Missouri. Wright made a three-pointer as time expired in regulation to force overtime, then Clark buried three of them in a span of 1 minute 47 seconds in the extra session to turn a tied game into a seven-point Georgetown lead. The 15 three-pointers against the Tigers were the third most in program history (the Hoyas had 17 against Villanova in the 2008 Big East tournament and 16 against Davidson in 2004).
Clark's overtime heroics, though, weren't the first time the Hoyas used three-pointers to seize control of a contest and, at the same time, demoralize an opponent. Against UNC Asheville on Nov. 27, Freeman knocked down three in a row in the first half to stake the Hoyas to an almost insurmountable lead. Against Tulane on Nov. 15, eight of the Hoyas' first 12 baskets were three-pointers, a run that in effect ended the game before it was 13 minutes old. And against Old Dominion on Nov. 12, Freeman and Wright combined to make three-pointers on four consecutive possessions late to turn a nine-point deficit into a lead Georgetown would not relinquish.
"Yes, the three-point shot can be a dagger, can be a weapon," Thompson said. "But I don't think we go into things saying, 'Okay fellas, let's get a run of threes here.' It's always, 'Let's get a good shot.' "
Having three of the nation's premier guards certainly helps, but it's just as important that one of them has always seemed to be open. It's something the Hoyas have accomplished thanks to patient perimeter passing, with Wright penetrating into the paint and then dishing the ball out to an open teammate. But it's also the result of something unseen by most observers: daily afternoon practice sessions at McDonough Arena often are followed by - you guessed it - more long-range shooting.
"Coach puts 12 minutes on the clock and we start shooting [and then] after practice we all get more shots up," Freeman said. "We work on the shots we take in the game. So when we take them, we know it's going in."
The barrage of three-pointers is something Utah State Coach Stew Morrill and the Aggies have been bracing themselves for since arriving in Washington on Thursday afternoon for some sightseeing.
"Defending the three is easy to talk about, but hard to do," Morrill said. "It's certainly one of their strengths and they are wise to play to it."
Morrill has often had a tough time scheduling games against power-conference opponents, which can bolster the NCAA tournament rsum for teams such as the Aggies. So he jumped at the chance to play Georgetown, even if it marks the first time in his 25 years as a head coach that he's agreed to play a team that refused to return to his home court the following season. (Utah State went 17-1 at home in 2009-10.)
The Aggies return four starters from last season's 27-8 squad, including 6-foot-7 senior forward Tai Wesley, who leads Utah State in points (15.3 per game) and is second in rebounds (6.8). They also have a dangerous perimeter shooter in senior guard Brian Green, who has made almost 47 percent of his three-point attempts.
But if this game goes anything like the previous seven for Hoyas, the outcome will be determined by the long-range specialists in blue and gray.
"The good thing is we're taking good shots," Wright said. "It's not like we're taking crazy three-pointers and living and dying by the three-pointer. We can all shoot the ball, so we're going to keep shooting."