By Tracee Hamilton
Sunday, February 27, 2011; 12:57 AM
Senior day isn't the event it used to be in college basketball, before players began leaving school early in droves to enter the NBA draft. For those players, missing it is no big loss; once in the NBA, they can afford to buy their mothers corsages every day for their rest of their lives.
But for fans, senior day is a chance to say thanks to the players who stuck it out, who wanted to get their degrees or take another crack at a national championship or just enjoy one final season on campus before heading out into the real world (especially if the real world means moving back home with mom and dad).
Up until a few days ago, Georgetown and its fans had reason to expect Saturday's senior day at Verizon Center would be a celebration. Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, Julian Vaughn and Ryan Dougherty would be honored, then No. 11 Georgetown and No. 17 Syracuse - with identical 10-6 conference records - would battle to stay alive in the race for a double bye into the Big East tournament quarterfinals.
Then Wright - the floor leader who'd started 93 consecutive games for Georgetown - broke his left (non-shooting) hand against Cincinnati on Wednesday, and everything changed. The seniors still got their commemorative silver bowls Saturday in a pregame ceremony before the largest crowd ever to see Georgetown play at Verizon Center - 20,276, including alums Bill Clinton and Alonzo Mourning. But what followed was a 58-51 Syracuse victory and a demonstration of just why the loss of Wright is so crippling to the Hoyas.
"Obviously, Chris Wright not playing is huge," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said. "I hope he's all right. I hope he can come back and play. Georgetown is obviously one of the best teams in our league when he's playing and that's a huge loss."
Wright is an irreplaceable player; you don't just turn to your bench, no matter how deep, and motion to another guy who'll give you 13.1 points and 5.4 assists a game, direct traffic, make the timely pass to just the right spot and do all those things a savvy senior with Big East experience can do.
Hollis Thompson got the start in Wright's place because, as Coach John Thompson III said, "Hollis can shoot." John Thompson went on to admit that you couldn't tell that by looking at the box score; Hollis Thompson, who was averaging eight points per game and hitting 46 percent of his three-pointers, finished the day with three points, all on free throws. It was a bad time for Hollis to have an off day, but then again, that's why they call it Senior Day and not Sophomore Day.
During the game, Wright sat on the bench in his warmups, standing on the perimeter of team huddles during timeouts, trying to see and hear what was happening and probably feeling like a guy flying coach after several years of sitting in first class.
"It was tough," Wright said. "I don't want to miss games but I was just there trying to support my team. It's part of sports, you get hurt and roll with it."
After trailing by 10 at halftime, the Hoyas fought back to take a 45-43 lead with 10 minutes 2 seconds remaining, their first lead since starting the game 2-0. It would be their last lead, as well. Neither team could hit much from three-point range - the Hoyas shot 28 percent, the Orange 30 percent - but the Hoyas turned over the ball 16 times and had just three steals. Syracuse (24-6, 11-6) scored 21 points off turnovers. Despite outrebounding Syracuse, 39-30, Georgetown (21-8, 10-7) had just nine second-chance points.
The Orange's zone frustrated Georgetown. Freeman said after the game that the Hoyas spent too much time passing the ball around the perimeter, looking for an opening inside. Freeman also admitted he missed his friend on the court.
"It was weird at first," he said. "I've played with him for four years now. It was a little bit weird but we still had to play."
They have to play again next Saturday without Wright at Cincinnati. Then comes the Big East tournament, and Wright is not expected to be ready for that, either. It's possible he'll be able to return in time for the NCAA tournament, which begins in earnest on March 17.
If not, the Big East team Boeheim called the most impressive he saw coming into conference play may face an early exit. John Thompson III doesn't seem ready to throw in the towel, however. After listening to his players answer questions about Wright's absence during the postgame news conference, Thompson - who didn't have any opening remarks - strode back to the microphone with some closing ones.
"Chris gets hurt three days ago and you get two days to get ready for this game and now you have a week to get ready for the next game," Thompson said. "It's a loss, there is no doubt about that. But you get down; you come out the first couple minutes of the second half and nothing good is happening.
"I'm not trying to look for something good, but we responded. It's not like we packed it in and took a 'woe is me' attitude. We fought, we scrapped and we got back in it. We came out on the losing end, but we're going to figure this out. Are we in a position where we thought we'd be five days ago? No, but it is what it is. I've got confidence that we're going to figure it out."