By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 9, 2011; D03
Georgetown had ample opportunity Saturday to steady a season that suddenly had started to teeter. But, in the clutch, its best players crumbled under the strain of their own miscues, and West Virginia handed the 13th-ranked Hoyas a 65-59 defeat at Verizon Center that severely reduces their margin of error for the rest of the season.
With three losses in their first four conference contests, the Hoyas are off to their worst start in league play since 2003-04, the season before Coach John Thompson III arrived. The Mountaineers (10-4), meantime, improved to 2-2 in the Big East behind a scintillating 28-point performance from Casey Mitchell.
"We're the same group of guys that was in there two or three weeks ago, and now we just have to get back to the things that put us in that position," Thompson said of the Hoyas' 11-1 start.
What made the defeat all the more distressing for Thompson and his players was the fact that the afternoon could have ended much differently had they made a play or two in critical moments.
The Hoyas (12-4) rallied from a seven-point second-half deficit to knot the score at 52 on a second straight three-pointer from Austin Freeman, who, after a scoreless first half, finished with 11 points. But as it turned out, it only provided fans with a false sense of hope. Moments later, Mountaineers forward Kevin Jones stepped back and knocked down an open three-pointer, and the Hoyas never could catch up.
Georgetown's last gasp came with 2 minutes 35 seconds left to play after Jason Clark (16 points and five rebounds, both team highs) converted a three-point play to pull the Hoyas to 62-59. But instead of pulling closer, they committed four consecutive turnovers - a forced pass by Chris Wright and then three lost balls by Clark - on their final five possessions to end the game. Clark's last turnover came with 10 seconds remaining as he fumbled the ball while attempting get it to Freeman, who wasn't able to handle the pass cleanly.
"That hurt us a lot," Clark said. "We had plays designed. We wanted to get up good shots. But we turned the ball over, which didn't let us get that."
West Virginia Coach Bob Huggins credited a "gimmick" defense with confusing the Hoyas in the waning moments.
"They switched it up," Wright said about a scheme the Mountaineers called a tandem defense. "It was a man-to-man [defense] but one man was left wide open and John Flowers was sitting in the middle of the lane. We tried to stay with our stuff. He threw a little gimmick at us and it paid off."
Odd defenses aside, the Hoyas had no one to blame but themselves.
They were outrebounded 32-23, including 15-4 on the offensive glass. Georgetown entered the game as the conference's worst offensive rebounding team, averaging only 10.1 per.
"It's effort," Clark said. "We have to do better. We have to want it more than the other team."
Also, the Hoyas' best players weren't that - again. Freeman, coming off a season-low six points in Monday's loss to St. John's, attempted only two shots in the opening 20 minutes and went scoreless in a half for the first time since Georgetown's startling NCAA tournament loss to Ohio in March. Wright shot 3 of 13, including 1 of 7 from three-point range, and finished with nine points. Since the start of conference play, the senior point guard is 12 for 43 from the field and 2 for 21 from behind the three-point arc.
"It's something I can't do," said Freeman, who moved past Roy Hibbert into 15th place on Georgetown's all-time scoring list. "My teammates need me to be aggressive and get my shot and also help them get easy shots, too."
Said Wright, who also had a game-high five turnovers: "It's frustrating. But it was more than just shooting. Me and [the other guards] have to get down there and rebound, we have to get stops."
Other reasons for worry: Front-court players Julian Vaughn, Henry Sims and Nate Lubick combined for only 12 points and seven rebounds, and Georgetown managed fewer free throws than its opponent for the third time in four games, 24 attempts to 11.
It all added up to a loss that could come back to haunt the Hoyas.