ST. PETERSBURG, FLA., DEC. 29 -- The fortunes of 6-foot-10 junior center Alonzo Mourning and Georgetown's basketball team, which normally are directly related, took decidedly different turns today. Although Mourning did not play against Houston because he aggravated his strained left arch while practicing Friday, the 16th-ranked Hoyas smothered the Cougars, 63-51, in the first college basketball game played at the Florida Suncoast Dome.
Mourning's absence is beginning to sound long-term, with Georgetown Coach John Thompson saying: "At this point in time, we are going to deal with a mind-set that he's not going to play. . . . We're not saving him for anything. We are unable to play him."
Although this could be a big problem as the Hoyas prepare for next week's Big East Conference opener against Seton Hall, it was no problem today.
Georgetown's perimeter defense, made quicker than normal by Mourning's absence, disrupted the Cougars, who generally take about one-third of their shots from behind the three-point line. Inside, the Hoyas outrebounded Houston 68-37 and center Dikembe Mutombo made offensive life miserable for Houston center Alvaro Teheran. Lastly, freshman forward Robert Churchwell scored a game-best 21 points, 17 in the second half.
Before collecting 11 points during the game's final two-plus minutes, the Cougars (8-2) threatened the school record for lowest field goal percentage in a game -- 21.3 against Texas A&M in 1954. As it was, they shot 26.2 percent while Georgetown created a contest that was an eyesore to almost everyone not dressed in blue and gray.
"That's the objective of our game, to be sloppy," said Thompson, whose team added to its splatter-painted masterpiece by shooting 33 percent and making 19 turnovers. "We're not trying to be pretty, we're trying to win."
That definitely was the case today. The Hoyas (7-2) entered with a two-game losing streak, their longest since 1987-88. And they were on the edge of a three-game nonconference losing streak -- something they never have endured as members of the Big East.
"Had we lost today, I think it wouldn't have been the end of the world," Thompson said, "but you can't keep talking about things working and doing things together if you don't get a victory. . . . I think it was a great win, particularly without Alonzo."
Thompson said before Friday's practice he planned to play Mourning, who has missed four of five games since suffering the injury against Duke 3 1/2 weeks ago.
But Thompson said that after Mourning went through "most of practice and looked great, he threw a hook shot, landed on his foot and came up hobbling. I got very cautious about it and told him that we need to let the doctor see it again."
Thompson said he could not provide a prognosis, but he said it is better for everyone to assume Mourning is not going to play.
"I think psychologically it's better for him in relieving his responsibility to get well and better for us in looking toward him," Thompson said. "I think psychologically it's been a tremendous distraction to our whole group. But he can't help that. That's not his fault. He's as nervous about it as anybody."
As far as Mourning's return is concerned, Thompson said: "You deal with two factors anytime a guy is out a long time. You deal with his getting well and you deal with his getting back into condition. It just scares me now because of the fact that we had given him rest."
The Hoyas filled the void in a variety of ways. Churchwell, freshman guard Charles Harrison (14 points) and Brian Kelly (10 points, seven rebounds) helped make up for the missing offense. So did a 28-8 advantage in offensive rebounds, led by Mutombo, who grabbed 10 of his 19 rebounds at the offensive end.
But it was the defense that made the difference. Houston, although making only one of its first 15 shots, still was able to close within 16-15 with nine minutes left in the first half. Then, during the next 13 1/2 minutes, it made one of 14 shots and Georgetown extended its lead to 34-17.
"That's the worst we've ever shot the ball -- even in practice," Cougars Coach Pat Foster said.
Houston's leading scorer, senior guard Byron Smith, entered averaging 20 points per game; he scored six on one-of-15 shooting.
"We become better defensively when we don't use a double post," Thompson said. "What we give up when we use two post men is perimeter pressure."
One post man was plenty today. The 7-1 Teheran, who averages 16 points per game while shooting nearly 60 percent, scored nine on three-of-nine shooting. At times, he seemed overwhelmed by the 7-2 Mutombo, who blocked two of his shots, altered several others and helped pressure him into five turnovers.