Big East Tournament: Georgetown's dispirited loss to U-Conn. is a bad sign
This isn't a slump by Georgetown. It's a cave-in. It's one thing for the Hoyas to lose four straight games, but quite another to lose so dispiritedly. Sure, they miss point guard Chris Wright, but to be this easily destroyed, so undone by his broken left hand, suggests they weren't very tough to begin with.
Enough with the wallowing in dejection.
It was still lunchtime when the Hoyas were out of the Big East tournament. They trailed ninth-seeded U-Conn. by 15 with 3 minutes 41 seconds left in the first half of their noon quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden, and were never able to get it under double digits after that, losing, 79-62. Without Wright they didn't just lack organization and confidence, they seemed to lack enthusiasm. Even the school band sounded flat, off key and out of time.
At the buzzer Julian Vaughn sat on the bench, staring at the towel in his hands, while next to him Henry Sims chewed his thumbnail, both yanked by Coach John Thompson III for not producing. Nearby the injured Wright was somber in a charcoal suit, with a black wrap on that busted left hand.
"It is what it is but we miss Chris, absolutely, 100 percent both ends of the court and in every way," Thompson said. "That being said, the group that's playing right now, that played today, has to be better, has to be better. Better than we've been showing."
It's been exactly two weeks since Wright fractured his third metacarpal diving after a ball. In that time the Hoyas have gone from a senior-laden team that looked like it had the potential to be a No.2 seed in the NCAA tournament, to one that looks like it hardly belongs in the field. Without a doubt, it's a hard thing to lose your senior leader, who averaged 13.1 points and 5.1 assists.
But there's something more than just a personnel issue troubling the Hoyas. Wright shouldn't be the sole emotional engine of the team. And if they don't find another one, fast, their next game will be their last of the season.
Wright's absence showed in a basic lack of crispness and intensity in everything the Hoyas did against the Huskies. Their passes floated. They drifted instead of cut. They waved instead of defended.
The contrast with the young, hard-rebounding, fast-breaking Huskies, led by the kinetic Kemba Walker, couldn't have been starker.
In fairness to the Hoyas, perhaps no one can match Walker's darting quickness. His ability to tie an opponent in knots, to skitter through, up, under and over the defense was good for 28 points. But as much as anything, Walker simply brought energy, and that's what ultimately separated the two teams.
It was like watching a spoon try to fend off a knife.
The Hoyas got beat repeatedly by a variety of Huskies, not just Walker, despite the fact that they were mostly freshmen and sophomores. There was Jeremy Lamb going 4 for 8. There was Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, going 5 for 10, and Shabazz Napier going 2 for 3. While the Hoyas played like they were swimming with boots on, the Huskies played like they were showing off.
The Hoyas lacked the same indefinable edge on offense. They gave up 16 turnovers, not so much with bad passes but with butterfingers, a fumbling and bumbling that bespoke a lack of alertness. "Going to our teammate and them bobbling it and it going out of bounds," as Austin Freeman described it.
At least they mustered 62 points against the Huskies, a big improvement over the 48 they had been averaging without Wright.
That was largely thanks to the 23 dropped in by Jason Clark. There is nothing overtly wrong with their offense: they move the ball around dutifully, make the right reads and the obligatory four passes on every possession. It's just that not enough happens - they had only six assists.
If the Hoyas expect to survive for long in the NCAAs, there has to be a collective stepping up.
The U-Conn. loss exposed a lack of leadership: the simple fact is that such a veteran team should never have been so flatly whipped. Even if Wright manages to return for the first round, they must still solve the mystery of their dramatic fall off.
Vaughn's total disappearance, for instance, is baffling: he is 0 for 12 from the field since Wright's injury. It's not enough for Freeman to score 20, either, while contributing just three rebounds, no assists and absolutely no emotional fire.
Freeman has always radiated lethargy with his body language, and never has it seemed more contagious.
In the first half Freeman made an effort to bark at his teammates, but then he seemed to sink into his usual outward apathy. During warm-ups for the second half, Freeman sat on the bench with his legs splayed, chewing idly on his mouthpiece, as he usually does. It's long been Freeman's habit to skip the second half warmup. But it hardly sends a message of urgency.
And matters are getting urgent for the Hoyas.