By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 13, 2011; 12:16 AM
Georgetown's stunning slide toward the bottom of the Big East standings gathered considerable momentum Wednesday night. And judging from the befuddled looks on the 22nd-ranked Hoyas' bench in the waning moments of their 72-57 home loss to No. 5 Pittsburgh, no one is quite sure how to get things turned around.
The defeat was Georgetown's fourth in five games to open conference play and marks its worst start since 1998-99, John Thompson Jr.'s last year as coach. It was also the Hoyas' biggest margin of defeat in a season that, after an 11-1 start, suddenly is in jeopardy of spiraling out of control at 12-5, 1-4.
"It's not an ideal situation," senior point guard Chris Wright said. "It's not a situation any of us envisioned at our beginning. But at this point, you can't do nothing about it. You have to step up and make plays and win games. There's no time for us to be, basically, acting like punks."
The box score was every bit as ugly as the final score might indicate. The Hoyas shot a season-low 38 percent from the field, made only five of their 20 three-point attempts, and after 20 minutes were an abysmal 4 for 14 from the free throw line. Pittsburgh, meantime, had 15 assists to only five turnovers.
"We dug a hole for ourselves in the first half," said Coach John Thompson III, whose team has cracked 60 points only once in conference play after averaging more than 80 in nonconference games. "We missed 10 free throws in the first half. You make those and it's a whole different ballgame. [We] are too good of a team to make that kind of a mistake."
In part because of the missed free throws, the Panthers (15-1) raced to a 41-24 lead at halftime and led by as many as 22 points in the second.
Ashton Gibbs scored a game-high 22 points, including 5 of 10 from beyond the arc, to lead the visitors to a 4-0 start in the conference for the third straight year. The junior guard was also a big reason the Hoyas never challenged late in the second half, despite a 9-1 run that cut the Panthers' lead to 60-49 with 5 minutes 22 seconds left to play.
Jerrelle Benimon's layup ignited the 15,712 and the home team's bench. But on Pittsburgh's next possession, Gibbs coolly sank a three pointer with 4:47 left to play. It was the Panthers' only field goal from outside of the paint in the second half.
"He hit a big one, a really big one," Thompson said.
Gibbs later credited the victory to the Panthers' familiarity with Georgetown's game plan.
"Coach Dixon had us prepared," Gibbs said. "We knew most of their sets."
Thompson bristled when asked if his offense is too predicable.
"If they had a meticulous film session, God bless them, it showed out on the court," he snapped. "That being said, we have options A, B, C, D and counters to everything and different reads. If, on this particular set they look for this, we always have something else to go to. We have to do a better job of getting to our second, third, fourth option."
For most of the night, the Hoyas chose option No. 1: shoot. And, in what has become an all too common refrain in recent games, neither the ball nor the rim cooperated.
Leading scorer Austin Freeman shot 5 for 13 and finished with 12 points. Jason Clark shot 1 for 4 and Hollis Thomson missed all five of his three-point attempts.
"We have good shooters that haven't been making shots," John Thompson said. "It's the nature of the game and you get down on yourself. Everyone needs to get back to the basics, get to the gym, get some reps. That's how you get your confidence back."
In the four conference losses, the Hoyas are shooting a combined 23.7 percent (18 for 76) from three-point range.
Georgetown's problems began early when the players trudged off the court to a smattering of boos at the end of the first half, which, fittingly, ended with Gibbs nailing a three-pointer to stretch the Panthers' lead to 17 and Freeman hoisting up an airball as time expired. Making matters worse, Wright collected his second foul quickly and was limited to 10 minutes.
"It was a huge impact," Thompson said.
Now, the Hoyas face the difficult task of rallying from a wretched start against the nation's fiercest competition.
"We're 1-4 in the toughest league in the country," Thompson said. "We still have a lot of ball to be played. We can still fight our way out of it, and we have to fight our way out of it."