For the 13th time this season the Hoyas hit the canvas, losing to St. John’s 59-56 in overtime Tuesday night, and there’s no doubt that Georgetown is now knocked out of any at-large discussion for the NCAA Tournament.
It was fitting for Georgetown’s NCAA Tournament hopes to die in a manner typical of nearly all their struggles this season. Even with a 15-point second half lead, the Hoyas managed to choke away a win in the stretch by missing free throws, failing to score on fastbreaks, allowing offensive rebounds and countering their confusion in the offensive end by falling in love with a three-point shot that did not love them back.
At least one, but usually a combination, of these vices proved Georgetown’s undoing all season long. Tuesday night, they all came back to haunt the Hoyas.
For the first 10 minutes of the second half, it appeared that the rout was on. Georgetown led 45-30 and hadn’t allowed a St. John’s field goal since before halftime. The Hoyas were having their way offensively, executing their schemes with a precision they had lacked since a monumental upset against Connecticut to start the Big East season. Then St. John’s switched their defensive set. They changed from a high pressure man-to-man defense to a 2-3 zone, to a 1-3-1 zone, shuffling their look with every Georgetown possession. It worked. Georgetown scored six more points for the remainder of the half.
Suddenly the precision offense was abandoned. Shooters settled for threes or turned the ball over. When the Hoyas turned St. John’s over – 14 steals on the night – Georgetown couldn’t convert on the other end, a very blunt answer to any fan believing the solution to the Hoyas’ woes was merely to let these athletes run free.
And the Red Storm got to work on the boards, muscling for loose balls and claiming a 46-25 rebounding edge on the night. None were more important than the offensive caroms that brought the Johnnies within two in the final seconds of regulation and then iced the game by making it a three-point margin with under 15 seconds in overtime.
The difference maker? Down the stretch, St. John’s hit its foul shots. The Hoyas missed nearly all of theirs.
All told it was one of the worst losses in the past decade for a Georgetown program that endured some doozies from 1999-2004.
So many times this season Georgetown has allowed its opponents to slip away in the second half. It happened in D.C. against Marquette most recently, but a five-point lead over a Top 20 team is hardly in the bag. It’s the losses against the least of the Big East that will relegate the Hoyas to the NIT.
Georgetown blew a seven point lead at Seton Hall and a 12-point lead against Cincinnati. Those second two teams are not exactly elite squads. Combine those wins with one Tuesday night and this is a much different season for the Hoyas.
The part that stings the most is that the loss squanders a key win at Villanova that put the Hoyas back in the NCAA Tournament conversation.
A little over a week ago, the NCAA Selection committee conducted a mock bracket exercise and placed Notre Dame into the field. Since that time, the Irish have lost two games and fallen out of the picture. Meanwhile, the Hoyas’ RPI profile was far better than that of the Irish, and their big wins – UConn, Memphis, Syracuse, Villanova – were far bigger as well. Had the Hoyas rattled off two wins over the bottom teams of the Big East to close out their regular season and start the Big East Tournament, they had a legitimate shot at making the field.
Now, all those hopes are gone. Much like that 15-point second half lead.
This year’s Georgetown team has some tremendous athletes. The best they’ve had on the hilltop campus in years. However, there is more than freak athleticism to this game and that was evidenced last night.
Greg Monroe, projected by some as the second pick in this year’s NBA Draft, was repeatedly lifted from the game because he couldn’t handle his defensive assignment — 6-foot-6, 226-lb. forward Rob Thomas. This wasn’t former Big East Player of the Year Luke Harangody of the Fighting Irish, nor future Big East Player of the Year DeJuan Blair of Pittsburgh. It wasn’t even 7-foot-3 behemoth Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut. It was St. John’s Rob Thomas, he of the 6.1 ppg and 3.3 rpg averages, who shares his name with the lead singer of pop band Matchbox 20. Thomas just wanted the ball more.
Monroe is a freshman, and freshman aren’t perfect. But this sort of thing does not happen No. 2 NBA Draft picks too frequently. Those who have been so quick to put Monroe on a pedestal should take note and readjust their expectations. He’s a great player, but he still has much to improve on. Particularly on the defensive end.
If Georgetown fans want to blame someone other than their favorite team for last night’s loss, they do have some fodder. With under 15 seconds left in regulation and the Hoyas up by two, a St. John’s player received a time out while he was in the air, falling out of bounds. Time outs cannot be awarded in such situations, but the referee did so anyway Tuesday night, caught completely ignorant about the rule.
Blowing that call in that situation is inexcusable … almost as inexcusable as blowing a 15-point second-half lead.