By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2011; D01
The Georgetown Hoyas suffered one of their ugliest defeats of the season Wednesday at Verizon Center, falling to Cincinnati, 58-46. But it was a loss they sustained in another spill, near center court, that could end up hurting more.
Chris Wright, the senior point guard and heart and soul of the 11th-ranked Hoyas, broke his left hand during a scramble on the floor after he turned over the ball early in the second half. Further information on the injury - and a timetable for his return - were not immediately available.
"He's a tough kid," Coach John Thompson III said. "He would play with one hand if he could. One trip up the court and you could see he was in excruciating pain. The doctor and trainer came over and said, 'We're pretty sure it's broke.' For him to ask to come out, he's in a lot of pain. He's as tough as they come."
Wright, who had led the Hoyas in scoring each of the previous three games, was called for a foul with 15 minutes 54 seconds remaining as he dived for the ball he had just lost. After getting up, he began flexing his fingers.
Wright returned from a media timeout with his wrist wrapped but removed himself 30 seconds later. After spending several minutes in the locker room with the team's trainer, Wright returned a second time, with a heavier wrap, but again left the floor wincing in pain.
Wright's injury only added to the Hoyas' misery on a night that saw them fall to 21-7, 10-6 and into a fifth place tie in the Big East standings.
Cincinnati, meantime, ended a 20-game road losing streak against teams ranked in the Associated Press top 25, which dated from a triumph over then-No. 21 Marquette in January 2004.
The Bearcats, led by 17 points apiece from Yancy Gates and Dion Dixon, improved to 22-6, 9-6, and boosted their chances of earning a spot in the NCAA tournament's field of 68 by authoring their signature win.
And they did it with a swarming defense that held Georgetown to 25 percent shooting, a season low for one of the nation's most efficient offenses. Georgetown's previous worst shooting performance was 38 percent in a loss to Pittsburgh.
Austin Freeman, Georgetown's leading scorer, snapped out of his slump. He scored 15 of his team-high 19 points in the first half. But a reinvigorated Freeman didn't get much help from his teammates. In fact, no Hoya other than Freeman made more than one basket.
Center Julian Vaughn struggled the most, missing eight of his nine shots before fouling out with 1:59 left to play.
"He missed a lot of shots he had been making," Thompson said. "We went through a stretch where we said, 'Okay, let's stop taking threes, let's get it inside, get good, deep post position'. And the ball just didn't go in. Should I give some of their post defenders credit? Probably. But Jules was getting the ball two or three feet from the basket."
Not having Wright down the stretch, though, was devastating. Although he was 0 for 6 with two points at the time he was hurt, Wright had been Georgetown's most productive player of late, averaging 21.7 points in the previous three contests.
Even after Wright took a seat at the end of the bench, an ice pack on his hand and a wearing a warmup, Georgetown still threatened to make a game of it late. A three-pointer by Vee Sanford with four minutes remaining trimmed the Cincinnati lead to 48-40.
But a fluky three pointer by Rashad Bishop - it banked in off the glass as the shot clock expired - put the Bearcats ahead 51-40 with 3:01 remaining.
"That was frustrating to see that," Freeman said. "We were playing good 'D.' "
Georgetown never recovered.
The Hoyas' biggest concern entering the game was coping with Cincinnati's aggressive defense, specifically protecting the ball from a team that leads the conference in forced turnovers.
Those fears were realized early but particularly in the first half as the Bearcats, who mixed a stifling zone defense with an equally suffocating man-to-man, raced out to a 19-8 lead, fueled by a 14-0 run and six Georgetown turnovers. The Hoyas, however, responded with a 14-0 run of their own, sparked by Freeman, and the score was tied 26-26 at halftime.
"You have to give Cincinnati's defensive intensity credit," Thompson said. "In general, definitely in the first half, we were careless with the ball. Just too careless with the ball."
Georgetown couldn't regain that momentum in the second half, missing their first eight shots. Their first field goal was a three-pointer by Hollis Thompson with 9:33 remaining.
"It definitely snowballed from there," Thompson said. "It was a lot of things at one time that went wrong."
The Hoyas will get the chance to redeem themselves when the teams meet again March 5 in Cincinnati. Wright's future, though, was much less clear.
"I don't know what bone," Thompson said of the injury. "We have to see how he feels. I don't know what that means. We'll see."