- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 3, 2006

DURHAM, N.C. — Georgetown still has no offensive identity.

After a promising first half against No. 11 Duke, the Hoyas (4-3) wilted down the stretch at Cameron Indoor Stadium last night, falling 61-52 to the Blue Devils.

The 18th-ranked Hoyas will bid adieu to the national polls tomorrow after back-to-back losses before welcoming James Madison to Verizon Center on Tuesday in what should be a relative breather.

The latest refrain from the same halting song began on an unusually positive note before 9,314 Cameron Crazies. The Hoyas actually looked like the team that last season knocked unbeaten and top-ranked Duke off its pedestal for the game’s opening 20 minutes.

In the first half, the Hoyas mixed in a nice balance of backdoor cuts, slashing moves from sophomore guard Jessie Sapp (13 points, four assists) and solid play on both ends from the interior tandem of Jeff Green (eight points, 10 rebounds, five assists) and Roy Hibbert (11 points, three blocks) to compile their most impressive run of hoops this season.

The Hoyas headed to the locker room leading 34-27 and shooting at a torrid 57.7 percent clip, leaving the locals feeling more than a little edgy about their young Blue Devils (7-1).

“We unbelievably respect Georgetown and their kids,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said after his 687th win. “We knew that physically we weren’t going to be able to match up to a team that starts [7-2] Hibbert, [6-9] Green and [6-8 DaJuan] Summers. We knew that was going to be an issue. You can’t practice for that. So, I think we got knocked back a little bit in the first half.”

But just as it did in galling losses to Old Dominion and Oregon, the Georgetown offense disappeared with the game on the line. Unlike in those two games, last night’s loss had nothing to do with effort and everything to do with execution. Players from both teams sprawled on the floor earning hustle points all evening. But anybody who watched the game must certainly question Georgetown’s lack of an offensive focus.

Unlike Duke, which responded to Georgetown’s dominating first half by putting the ball into the hands of its unquestioned leader, sophomore forward Josh McRoberts (15 points, seven rebounds, six assists), the Hoyas looked offensively uncertain while the Blue Devils surged back into the game.

After tying the score at 49-49 on a surprisingly agile spin-and-drive layup by Hibbert with 6:12 left after limping out of intermission, the Hoyas mustered only one more field goal as Duke pulled away for a victory marred by 35 combined turnovers.

Sapp faded after his 11-point opening half, suddenly becoming more tentative off the dribble. And yet again with the game in the balance, Hibbert and Green fell silent when the Hoyas needed their junior stars most.

For his part, Hibbert tried to force the action. But instead of staking his claim to the low block, the mammoth center floated maddeningly out around the foul line, at one point dribbling the ball off his foot when he tried to take his defender off the bounce 25 feet from the rim.

In similar fashion, Green also tried to assert himself but strayed from his strongest skills. Instead of attempting open, short jumpers or posting up, Green also went to the dribble, a tactic that yielded trips to the free throw line on consecutive possessions before Duke pulled back a bit and dared him to shoot — which he unselfishly didn’t.

The result was a listless Georgetown offense that alternated between forced shots and plodding, overly patient possessions; an offense that mustered only three points in 6:12 with the game on the line. The lone constant was the absence of instinctive play.

“There was a big difference in execution in the second half,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “They did a better job. They didn’t play us as tight, [reducing backdoor lanes]. And they didn’t chase us around as much. But we still got some decent looks and possessions and just didn’t take advantage.

“We’ve got a group of guys who have obviously been through a tough stretch of games. That’s stating the obvious. And we just have to keep our heads down and get through it.”

Duke’s offense was far from its glory-day form, but sophomore guard Greg Paulus emerged from his season-long slump with some clutch baskets down the stretch, scoring all 13 of his points in the second half to join McRoberts as the Duke catalysts against the floundering Hoyas.

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