Playing a highly ranked team close is no longer good enough for second-year Georgetown coach Craig Esherick. After watching his team fade in today's 72-62 loss to sixth-ranked Florida in the third-place game of the Maui Invitational, Esherick saw some things he liked, just not enough of them.
"Last year, we played some tough teams close, only to lose in the last five minutes," Esherick said. "We are a better team than we were last year and I think we showed it in how we played against two quality teams."
The other team was fourth-ranked North Carolina, which held off the Hoyas on Tuesday for an 85-79 victory to advance to the championship game. Against the Tar Heels, back-to-back three-pointers put the Hoyas within two points at 81-79 with 22.3 seconds left.
"I don't want to be the team that's playing with a top program," Esherick said. "I want to be the number five team in the nation winning close games like Florida and North Carolina did with us. And I think we have an opportunity to do that if we continue to improve."
Hoyas point guard Kevin Braswell tied the game at 55 on a 17-foot jumper at the top of the key with 4 minutes 18 seconds left in the game. But it was the last time Georgetown would be that close.
Florida swingman Mike Miller responded to the Hoyas' challenge with a three-pointer that gave Florida the lead for good with 3:48 remaining. Miller was 5 of 5 beyond the three-point line and was the Gators' leading scorer with 18 points.
"I thought that three by Miller was the turning point," Esherick said. "They seemed to get momentum from that shot and we kind of faded down the stretch. We've got to find ways to make shots like those ourselves."
Florida began the game in a man defense, but couldn't match up with Georgetown inside. Florida Coach Billy Donovan quickly shifted to a 2-3 zone and stayed in it the remainder of the game.
"We wanted to force them to hit from the outside," Donovan said. "For a while, they made their shots, but over the last five or six minutes, we challenged them on the wings. Our kids came back and played hard against a good Georgetown defense. This was a good win for our program."
Florida was expected to meet North Carolina in the final, but lost to Purdue in the second round.
Miller's three-pointer keyed a 7-0 run late that knocked Georgetown out of the game. Braswell made a layup with two minutes left that cut Florida's lead to 62-57, but that was as close as it would get.
Braswell led the way for Georgetown with 23 points. Shooting guard Anthony Perry added 19. He made 4 of 9 three-pointers with the last falling with 13:10 remaining to give Georgetown its biggest lead at 49-42.
"At that point, we were right where we wanted to be," Esherick said. "We just went into a scoring drought and Miller got them back in it with his outside shooting."
Georgetown survived five three-point shots and a 10-0 run to stay even with Florida at the half. A putback by Gators freshman forward Donnel Harvey with 0.4 seconds left made it 33-33 at the intermission.
Harvey finished with 10 first-half points and 14 for the game.
"We had a chance to beat North Carolina and Florida, but our mental mistakes hurt us late in the game," Georgetown center-forward Ruben Boumtje Boumtje said. "If we can clean up our game, we have a chance to be a good team. We just have to find a way to score late."