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Georgetown vs. Syracuse: Without Chris Wright, Hoyas succumb to the Orange

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 27, 2011; D01

The Georgetown men's basketball team rallied from a double-digit second-half deficit Saturday, igniting a raucous Verizon Center crowd that included a former president and a Hoyas legend.

But after seizing a two-point lead without the services of injured guard Chris Wright, the Hoyas reverted to the cold-shooting, turnover-prone bunch that caused them to fall behind in the first place. As shot after shot clanked off the rim, guard Scoop Jardine led Syracuse to a 58-51 victory that pushed the Orange past Georgetown in the increasingly muddled Big East standings.

Coach John Thompson III said the defeat was mostly the result of a poor shooting performance, the Hoyas' second straight. Georgetown missed 32 of its 50 shots, including 11 of its 12 attempts after taking a two-point lead with 10 minutes 2 seconds remaining. The Hoyas' 36 percent field goal percentage was their second worst this season; the 25 percent effort in Wednesday's 54-46 loss to Cincinnati was the worst of Thompson's tenure.

"We got the ball where we wanted it most of the time," Thompson said. "But you have to finish the play. You have to put the ball in the basket."

The defeat dropped Georgetown (21-8, 10-7) into seventh place in the conference, the second to last spot that earns a bye in the conference tournament, which begins March 8 at Madison Square Garden. The 17th-ranked Orange, meantime, avenged its loss to the Hoyas at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 9, improved to 24-6, 11-6 and put itself solidly back into the conversation for a double bye into the tournament quarterfinals, which goes to the top four finishers in the regular season.

"This league is so hard, it's really hard to believe sometimes," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said. "One game is going to be the difference between fourth place and ninth place. If we lose this game, we're almost in ninth place. That's how messed up this whole thing is. It makes no sense."

The announced crowd of 20,276 was the biggest for a Georgetown game at Verizon Center, according to school officials. Among the masses of blue and gray - which featured more than a few speckles of orange - were former president Bill Clinton and Alonzo Mourning, the newest member of Georgetown's athletic Hall of Fame.

Wright missed his first game since breaking a bone in his hand Wednesday against Cincinnati. Without him running the point, the No. 11 Hoyas at times looked out of sorts on offense.

Wright "not being out there, it was little bit weird," said guard Austin Freeman, who scored 16 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Asked about the offense's effectiveness without Wright, Freeman added, "At points, we were holding the ball a little bit too long, looking for something."

In the final 10 minutes of the second half, the Hoyas were simply looking for a basket. After falling behind 37-25 early, Jason Clark (11 points) and Freeman sparked a 20-6 run that was capped by Nate Lubick's follow-up that put Georgetown ahead, 45-43. It was the Hoyas' first lead since the opening seconds of the game. The crowd jumped to its feet.

"Nate made a great play," Clark said. "I felt like we kind of had control. But I knew it wasn't over."

Clark's instinct was correct. A frigid shooting spell that was reminiscent of the team's second-half meltdown against Cincinnati did in the Hoyas, whose only field goal between Lubick's go-ahead bucket and the final buzzer was a three-pointer by Markel Starks with 2:47 left to play. Starks - a freshman and Wright's heir apparent - played a season-high 24 minutes and finished with six points and one assist.

"He played okay, did what he was supposed to do," Thompson said of Starks.

At the other end of the floor, Jardine carried Syracuse. The powerful 6-foot-2 guard scored after a difficult drive off the glass to knot the score at 45. Moments later, he made a three-pointer that put the Orange ahead for good, 49-46. Jardine finished a game-high 17 points, somewhat offsetting poor shooting performances from forward Kris Joseph (2 of 7) and guard Brandon Triche (1 of 7).

"He made some big shots," Thompson said of Jardine. "He managed the game for them, controlled the game for them."

Georgetown had one more good chance to pull even, trailing 54-51. But Joseph got a fingernail on a three-point attempt by Clark, sending the ball off target with 28 seconds remaining.

"I was open for a second, but [Joseph] made a good play and tipped it," Clark said.

Missed shots, though, weren't Georgetown's only problem. Without Wright, more Hoyas were responsible for handling the ball and distributing passes. Things often went awry.

In all, they committed 16 turnovers (to Syracuse's nine). The Orange also was credited with nine steals (to home team's three).

Thompson and the Hoyas had only two days of practice in which to prepare for life after Wright. Now, they have a week until a rematch with the Bearcats in Cincinnati in which to figure things out - or risk losing out on a bye in the conference tournament.

"We know that we have to win now," Freeman said. "So that's what we're going to take into practice this week."

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