- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Georgetown survived a scare from scrappy South Florida last night at MCI Center, earning an ugly 50-47 victory to avoid what would have been a devastating upset.

“It’s a league game. That’s how they’ve been, and that’s how they’re going to be,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III, who came into the contest impressed with the Bulls in spite of their pedestrian record (6-11, 0-4 Big East). “I don’t care if it’s their first run through the league or not, they’re tough. They played West Virginia just like that. They hung with Syracuse. We knew coming in they were going to give us that kind of fight.”

The Hoyas (11-4, 3-2) now await a nationally televised home showdown Saturday against No. 1 Duke. Two seasons ago, during the miserable 13-15 campaign that led to coach Craig Esherick’s ouster, the Hoyas dropped an 85-66 decision to the Blue Devils at MCI Center.

And if the Hoyas play like they did last night against lowly South Florida, the Big East’s only team with a losing record, they could be in for a redux of that home humbling when Coach K and All-American locks J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams roll into town.

The Bulls are not without talent. The upperclass trio of center Solomon Jones (11 points, 12 rebounds), swingman McHugh Mattis and off-guard James Holmes are as athletic as any group in the league, which explains the team’s narrow defeats to West Virginia (57-53) and at Syracuse (63-57) in the team’s first two conference games.

But the Bulls also have no depth, no perimeter shooters and no concept of team basketball, which explains a 19-point home loss to St. John’s on Saturday and the squad’s winless league start. Perhaps the Bulls aren’t as bad as their record might suggest, but a loss last night would have been a damning black mark on Georgetown’s postseason resume.

And if not for a last-second defensive stand and the play of fifth-year senior D.J. Owens (20 points, five rebounds), the Hoyas likely would have suffered just such a scar.

A bruising, ugly offensive game came down to one South Florida possession with the Hoyas leading 48-47 and 17.7 seconds left on the clock. The Bulls forced the ball into Jones, a spidery 6-foot-10 center, on the possession. Jones collected the ball some 10 feet from the hoop near the left elbow and was swallowed by Georgetown forwards Jeff Green and Brandon Bowman. The Hoyas still had two fouls to give. And with orders from the bench to hack and force a reset, Green and Bowman were both doing their best to comply.

But the officials, who seemed reticent to call anything all night, simply holstered their whistles and let the chaos of bodies sort itself out as the clock ticked down. The result was a harassed, short-armed, turnaround airball from Jones with five seconds remaining that Owens collected under the basket with 2.6 seconds left. It was the perfect ending for a 40-minute aesthetic debacle that mercifully was not televised.

Owens was fouled and converted both free tosses, and the Hoyas survived one final scare when Mattis had his 35-footer at the buzzer deflect off the rim.

Frankly, the game never should have reached such Maalox status.

Fact is, the Bulls visited MCI Center on the perfect night, catching the Hoyas after a pair of emotionally draining road losses against ranked opponents (West Virginia and Connecticut) and just days before their schedule showcase game against Duke. And the Hoyas obviously didn’t respond well to the challenge.

Leading scorer Roy Hibbert was invisible, missing his first four shots before he was banished to the bench without a point for the first time all season. Green (six points, five rebounds) was almost equally awful, missing three wide open 3-pointers in the first half and then declining to shoot for the duration. Bowman and senior guard Ashanti Cook (12 points) both had their moments, but only Owens was effective on both ends from the outset.

“Our team is a mixed group of scorers in that on any night six or seven different guys can explode,” Owens said. “Tonight was my night, but I’m sure in the next game, it will be someone else. We’re going to spread the love around.”

The streaky 6-foot-7 swingman from Napoleonville, La., played inspired defense all night and banged home his first two 3s, nearly always a harbinger of doom for a Georgetown opponent. But the combination of aggressive defense by Mattis and the Hoyas’ staggering inability to get him the ball when he had the team’s only hot hand kept the game closer than it should have been. Despite the fact he finished the game 6-for-10 from the field and 4-for-8 from 3-point range, Owens’ last field goal (and next-to-last attempt) came with 12:15 remaining in the half. That oversight by his teammates was just one more indictment of the Hoyas’ performance on a night when Georgetown notched a victory in spite of itself.

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