- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

Longtime Georgetown coach John Thompson despised noon starts at home, claiming it usually took his teams a half to wake up against a focused, rested road team that had spent the previous night sequestered in a hotel instead of enjoying weekend life on the Hilltop.

Father always knows best.

The sleepwalking Hoyas were stung by the early-tip phenomenon and the nation’s premier frontcourt yesterday, falling to No.10 Connecticut 66-59 before 11,363 at MCI Center in a game that practically was over at intermission.

“There was not too much in that first half that was Georgetown basketball,” said Hoyas coach John Thompson III, subdued but still seething after his team shot just 25 percent (7-for-28) from the field and were dominated on the boards (32-15) in a woeful first half that sent them to the locker room down 39-19 to the defending national champs.

“The first five or 10 minutes of the half, we ran our stuff and the ball just didn’t go in,” Thompson added. “That happens. But in the latter part of the half, we were just out there. That’s not acceptable. We cannot win games playing only 20 or 30 minutes of basketball.”

Despite misfiring on nine of their first 10 shots, the Hoyas (9-4, 1-1 Big East) trailed just 25-17 when junior forward Brandon Bowman (14 points, eight rebounds) completed a three-point play from the line with 4:35 left in the first half. But what followed was the kind of offensive relapse of which the young Hoyas are still capable: a static series of dribble-centric possessions ending in quick, forced jumpers, long Connecticut rebounds and easy buckets for the Huskies (9-2, 1-1).

“A lot of guys took it upon themselves to try and make big plays, and we got away from our offense,” said senior forward Darrel Owens of the resulting 14-2 run powered mostly by UConn’s 6-foot-11 terror, Charlie Villanueva (19 points, 13 rebounds), and streaky junior forward Denham Brown (19 points). “We got back to our stuff in the second half, but by then it was too late.”

Thompson was far too disgusted with the effort before intermission to pay lip service to a second-half comeback that saw the chastened Hoyas hold their own on the boards against the larger, deeper Huskies and sprint back into contention via some stellar three-point shooting and the superb interior play of freshman standout Jeff Green.

The 6-8, 225-pound dynamo from Hyattsville’s Northwestern High School notched a career-high 22 points against Connecticut’s daunting front line, overwhelming the man-to-man defense of shot-swatting maestro Josh Boone and dwarfing the performance of Baltimore product Rudy Gay (three points) in a battle of the league’s elite freshmen.

“He’s terrific,” said Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun of Green, who made eight of 11 from the field and added six rebounds. “He’s going to be a force in this league.”

Despite a much improved effort in the second half, the Hoyas were never able to trim the lead to less than six, and Brown and Villanueva kept the margin hovering near 10 points all half by combining to drop 16 of their 18 free throws.

If you’re looking for a villain, home or visiting, there really wasn’t one. Georgetown did a nice job of taking away Connecticut’s top three weapons, holding Boone, junior gunner Rashad Anderson and Gay to a paltry 13 points. And none of Georgetown’s stalwarts was remarkably ineffective; freshman tower Roy Hibbert struggled mightily on the offensive end (0-for-5), but he was largely responsible for snuffing Boone (eight points, four rebounds), a double-double machine who entered the game averaging a team-leading 17.5 points.

The Hoyas simply were force-fed a dose of reality by Connecticut, the class of the Big East for the last decade. The Hoyas aren’t deep enough inside to absorb any blip in offensive efficiency against such a team.

They proved earlier in the week by winning on the road at Pittsburgh that they are capable of taking down one of the league’s giants. But they have to play near their best to do so. Just as they did against Pitt, they must shoot very well to accomplish that feat. Starting 1-for-10 against a team that features three 6-10 players and leads the nation in rebounding margin (19.4) simply won’t cut it.

Still, few observers would have expected a split against a brutal conference-opening duo of Pittsburgh and Connecticut, the teams that last season won the Big East and the national championships, respectively. The Hoyas play host to Rutgers on Tuesday night in just Thompson’s third Big East game. But the young coach and his charges have already made ripples in the league.

“Georgetown is back,” Calhoun said. “Whether they have a few bumps in the road or whatever, that’s to be expected. They’re a very young team. But I think they have a chance to be very, very good. It’s remarkable to see what John’s done. It takes two or three years to really learn that [Princeton] offense. Then you take breaking down all the bad habits that his older players learned before he got here, and I’m just incredibly impressed with how far he’s already brought this team. They are going to be a very tough out for anybody in this league.”

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