So Georgetown's would-be romp through February was a false start, after all. The Hoyas, coming off two of their most inspiring performances of the season, followed with one of their more lethargic efforts yesterday, and the afternoon of doldrums produced a 72-63 loss to DePaul before 12,379 at Capital Centre.

Georgetown Coach John Thompson and his players heaped praise upon the Blue Demons afterward, but still they found it difficult to conceal the fact that this was perhaps their most galling defeat of the season. They led by 12 points in the opening 10 minutes, held DePaul scoreless for almost 7 1/2 minutes of the first half and seemed to be having few problems with their smaller opponents.

But matters changed abruptly after halftime. The Blue Demons (12-7) -- who won for the eighth time in 10 games, and for the first time in five all-time meetings with Georgetown here -- turned up the intensity a few notches, and the 18th-ranked Hoyas (13-6) failed to respond in kind.

DePaul made 17 of 32 shots in the second half, that after suffering through 10-of-26 misfiring in the opening 20 minutes. The Blue Demons outrebounded Georgetown by 20-13 after the intermission (including a 9-7 edge on the offensive backboards) for a 35-28 advantage overall.

They bothered the Hoyas with occasional full-court defensive pressure, and they began to free forward David Booth for open jump shots inside the lane. DePaul outscored Georgetown 24-7 in the opening 9:37 of the second half to turn a 30-24 deficit at the break into a 48-37 lead, and the Hoyas rarely threatened thereafter.

"I just told them {at halftime}: 'Well, we didn't play well. We have a half to turn it around,' " said DePaul Coach Joey Meyer, who beat the Hoyas for the first time in seven tries. "I told them: 'We didn't come here to look good. We came here to win.'

"They just looked at me like: 'What are you talking about? We know we're going to win.' . . . I knew it would happen sooner or later, that I'd beat John. I just thought I was going to be about 85 before I did."

Booth made nine of 16 shots and scored 22 points (18 of them in the second half), and Terry Davis added 13 points for DePaul. Dikembe Mutombo had 22 points and Alonzo Mourning 18 for Georgetown, but the rest of the Hoyas shot a combined nine for 31 and totaled but 23 points and 15 rebounds.

"It was just one of those days," Thompson said. " . . . At times we were very impatient, and I attribute that to {DePaul's} defense. We went through a mental haze at the wrong time. . . . We lost our concentration at the wrong times.

"If it had to happen, I'm just glad it happened in a non-league game. . . . They beat us at our game {offensive rebounding}. At one time I was going to tell our kids just to let them score so they couldn't get another rebound."

The Hoyas fell to 6-3 at home, that after entering the season 117-12 since making Capital Centre their home court in 1981. They've lost two non-Big East home games -- the other defeat was to Texas-El Paso in December -- for the first time since the 1982-83 season.

And yesterday's less-than-sparkling effort was all the more puzzling considering they began the day with the momentum of back-to-back victories over 17th-ranked Pittsburgh and No. 5 St. John's. Perhaps it was simply too early for one of Thompson's teams to begin its trademark late-season roll.

"There is no easy game," Mutombo said. "All the games are tough. . . . We should have won because of the way we were playing {early on}. I cannot describe this game. I don't know what happened to us. We tried to do our best. . . . We just have to go on and get prepared for Wednesday's game" here against Providence.

Georgetown appeared to be having an easy time of it through the early stages. The Hoyas scored on six of their first seven possessions against DePaul's three-guard lineup, and Mourning and Mutombo had combined for 13 points by the time Mutombo's dunk provided a 20-8 lead 9:51 into the game.

The Blue Demons missed seven straight shots and committed two turnovers between Davis's jumper that made it 9-8 and Booth's short bank shot that drew them to within 20-10. Still, they hung tough to trail just 30-24 at the half, and Booth led the charge early in the second half by providing eight points during a 16-3 surge that turned a 34-32 deficit into a 48-37 lead with 10:23 remaining.

Georgetown's only points during that 5 1/2-minute span came on reserve guard Ronny Thompson's three-pointer. The Hoyas got no closer than five points during the final 10 minutes, as DePaul made 12 of 14 free throws down the stretch and Georgetown continued to miss from the perimeter. The Hoyas' primary outside scoring threat, freshman guard Charles Harrison, shot three for 15.

"I don't really think of it as a step backwards for us," said Georgetown point guard Joey Brown, who picked up three fouls early in the first half. "They just beat us. They stepped up their play in the second half, and we didn't keep up our intensity. We just have to accept defeat and move on to the next thing."