Georgetown Coach Craig Esherick tried to head off a mental meltdown by his players. He knew how frightfully possible that was with the Hoyas having started a Big East Conference season with two losses to teams they had good chances of beating. So he did his best to be positive after they blew a five-point lead in the final 94 seconds of overtime yesterday in MCI Center and lost, 65-62, to Seton Hall.
"This is not a league for babies, either for coaches or for players," Esherick said. "We all have to be tough enough to know that the season is not over. I'm certainly not ready to fold the tent. The season's not halfway over, and we're 8-5. I can remember many a season, as a player and as a coach, where at times you feel [terrible]. . . .
"We've got plenty of basketball to play. I think we have a good team--and I think we will get better."
The loss yesterday felt similar to so many last season--and came on the one-year anniversary of Esherick replacing John Thompson as coach. As they did on the road against Providence three days earlier, the Hoyas crawled out of a first-half hole, during which they missed 80 percent of their shots, and took the lead.
Georgetown led by four points with 3 minutes 24 seconds left in regulation, but surrendered a layup to frontcourt reserve Gary Saunders with 58 seconds remaining that ultimately sent the game into overtime. Point guard Kevin Braswell had three shots on Georgetown's last possession of regulation, including a tough layup and three-pointer, but missed them all.
Overtime was even worse for the Hoyas. With Seton Hall's 6-foot-11 freshman center Samuel Dalembert having fouled out, Georgetown took a 61-56 lead on some terrific play from freshmen forwards Courtland Freeman (10 points in 15 minutes) and Victor Samnick (18 points, 15 rebounds). Samnick was on the foul line in a bonus situation with 94 seconds left, but missed.
That started a 48-second surge that included some spotty defense by Georgetown and the fifth foul on center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje and allowed the Pirates (10-2, 2-0) to gain the lead for good, 63-62.
The foul came after guard Shaheen Holloway sped past freshman backup guard Demetrius Hunter, hit a driving layup and collided with Boumtje Boumtje with 77 seconds left. Esherick argued unsuccessfully for a no-call and insisted that the rules regarding "verticality" supported him.
Holloway's foul shot narrowed Georgetown's advantage to 62-61. Senior backup forward Rhese Gibson then missed an open 15-footer from the left wing and Seton Hall proceeded to embarrass Georgetown's defense.
With Dalembert, who tied a school record for blocks with nine, out, the Pirates went with four perimeter players.
"We had a hard time distinguishing that," Esherick said.
Senior shooting guard Rimas Kaukenas beat Anthony Perry on the right baseline, then threw a pass to a wide-open Darius Lane for a layup with 46 seconds left that lifted the Pirates into a one-point lead they maintained.
On their last decent possession, the Hoyas appeared uncertain and called a timeout with 27 seconds left. Later, Perry (1-for-10 shooting) drove the lane but missed a contested leaner. Hunter grabbed the rebound, but his shot was too high from inside 10 feet. Saunders controlled the rebound, was fouled with eight seconds and made both foul shots.
Closely guarded by Holloway, Braswell missed a 20-footer from the right wing with two seconds left.
Seton Hall Coach Tommy Amaker was elated that a team with two freshman starters, Dalembert and forward Greg Morton (10 points, 11 rebounds in 41 minutes), helped claim a road win against the Hoyas for the first time in 13 years. The last time the Pirates played at MCI Center, slightly more than a month ago, they lost back-to-back games to George Washington and Illinois. They have not been beaten since.
"My mother is big on sayings," said Amaker, a native of Falls Church, "and she told me after those losses: 'A setback is a setup for a comeback.' I told our players this was our full circle of a comeback."
With a conference road game against St. John's on Monday, Esherick delivered his we-can't-fold message to the players before delivering it in public.
"There's still a long way to go," Boumtje Boumtje said. "Hopefully, we can get this turned around."