By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 30, 2010; 12:12 AM
SOUTH BEND, IND. - The one thing No. 9 Georgetown had always been able to rely on betrayed them in a big way Wednesday night: Layups rimmed out, jumpers clanked off the iron and one three-pointer missed everything.
All the missed shots added up to the Hoyas' worst shooting performance of the season and, ultimately, a 69-55 loss to No. 15 Notre Dame in the Big East Conference opener for both teams.
"We shoot a lot of shots, and we've been fortunate in the first 12 games we've made a lot shots," said point guard Chris Wright, whose only field goal (on nine attempts) came at the 11-minute mark of the second half. "We had an off day today."
It was a cold offensive effort by almost any standard but it was all the more unexpected considering Georgetown arrived at Joyce Center ranked second in the nation in field goal percentage (52.8 percent). The Hoyas, though, connected on only 35.7 percent of their attempts during an out-of-sync first half and finished the game with a 42.6 percentage, which included a dismal 4 for 22 from beyond the three-point arc.
"You have to give their defense credit for our shooting woes," said Coach John Thompson III, who fell to 6-1 in conference openers. "Everything was contested. And once we started to miss, it almost snowballed."
Despite all the missed shots, Georgetown (11-2) still had a chance to make a game of it early in the second half. Trailing 34-28, the Hoyas produced four consecutive stops at the defensive end. But after the teams traded baskets, Wright (three points) missed a three-pointer and Austin Freeman (a game-high 21 points) misfired on a jumper, as the discipline that had become the hallmark of the Hoyas' offense suddenly deserted them.
At the other end, meantime, Fighting Irish seniors Tim Abromaitis (20 points) and Scott Martin hit back to back three-pointers to extend Notre Dame's lead to 42-30, ignite the capacity crowd of 9,149 and, in effect, put the game out of the Hoyas' reach. The Fighting Irish improved to 12-1.
"Early in the second half, I thought we were getting the stops that we needed," Thompson said. "But our decision making at the offensive end was not where it needed to be."
Notre Dame Coach Mike Brey said his team's perimeter defense, coupled with its success slowing the Hoyas' transition game, proved to be the difference.
"If you look at their win at Old Dominion and their win at Missouri, they were down, flat out beat, and came rolling back by firing from outside," Brey said. "We were alert out there. They've [also] really gotten easy buckets this year [in transition]. We had two guys back on every missed shot, because when they get running, they really get into a flow."
Georgetown also took only nine free throws - and made just five - and were outscored 16-9 on second-chance opportunities. Notre Dame, on the other hand, made 22 of 27 attempts from the free throw line.
"We gave them too many open open looks at the three-point line, they got too many second-chance rebounds and putbacks," center Julian Vaughn said. "The big men have to do better. We're going to try to learn from it."
The potential for a long night for the Hoyas was obvious after a disjointed opening 20 minutes in which they made rare miscues. In addition to missing a number of open looks en route to their second-worst shooting half of the season, Vaughn picked up his third foul before the game was 12 minutes old, limiting him to four minutes in the half. They also made only three of their seven free throw attempts, twice stepped on the out-of-ounds line and had a shot-clock violation.
"We had some mistakes we haven't had and not going to have," Thompson said, knocking on the wooden dais. "To say we were out of sync would be accurate. We have to take care of that. This is not the time to be out of sync."
But they were, almost from the opening tip. And now, Wright said, it's important that the Hoyas avoid dwelling on the loss with DePaul coming to Washington on Saturday.
"This is the Big East, man," he said. "You either come ready to play or someone is going to beat you. But we have enough veterans on our team to know that one loss isn't going to break us."