- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

RALEIGH, N.C. — Maryland-Baltimore County hopes to bully the blue and gray.

That might seem like an odd tactic for an undersized No. 15 seed to employ against the two-time Big East regular-season champions. But the Retrievers (24-8) are convinced Pittsburgh provided the template for beating the Hoyas (27-5) with its 74-65 victory in last week’s Big East tournament final. The Panthers punished the Hoyas on the boards 41-29 and set the tone with their attacking physical style.

“Two or three timesa we have gotten together as a team and watched [that tape],” UMBC senior forward Cavell Johnson said. “Those guys came out and went really hard at Georgetown. When you are scouting a team, you want to see how other teams who have been successful have played them and try to take a similar approach. We are a pretty physical bunch, and that’s not really their strength.”

Even 5-foot-8 UMBC point guard Jay Greene talked rebounding yesterday at RBC Center.

“Pittsburgh really attacked them,” Greene said. “And that’s one thing we’ve been stressing. We can definitely go to the offensive glass on this team.”

Last season during the NCAA tournament’s opening weekend, Boston College questioned the Big East’s athleticism, and the Hoyas responded with a 62-55 victory over the Eagles to advance to the Sweet 16. A year later, the Hoyas are collecting opening-round criticism from an America East team making its first appearance in the tournament.

“Hey, what they’re saying isn’t without merit,” Georgetown guard Jonathan Wallace said. “Everybody who watches that [Pittsburgh] tape is going to come to that conclusion because that wasn’t our finest hour in terms of intensity, defense or rebounding. We did a lot of things in that game that are uncharacteristic of our team. Pitt did beat us up. They came out very physical, and we never matched them.”

And while the team’s general intensity deficiency against Pitt might be considered an anomaly, the Panthers were merely the latest team to expose Georgetown’s rebounding issues. For a team with a 7-foot-2, 283-pound center (Roy Hibbert) and a pair of 6-8 jumping jacks at power forward (DaJuan Summers and Patrick Ewing Jr.), the Hoyas are a marginal bunch on the boards.

They finished last in the Big East in offensive rebounds (9.91), were outrebounded in half their league games and surrendered 12.3 offensive rebounds a game.

“We’ve heard about it plenty,” Summers said. “But that was a rare occasion for a team to beat us as badly on the boards as Pitt did. And now that it happened, I think guys are more focused on not letting it happen again. That was definitely a reality check. We learned you can’t take possessions off. We learned that making hustle plays is more important than X’s and O’s. That’s what that game came down to, and that’s what most of these games will come down to. The team that’s tougher — mentally and physically — is the one that’s going to advance.”

The Retrievers believe effort can trump talent. And until the Hoyas resolve their weakness on the boards, they’re just going to have to live with a label that stings even more than lucky — the notion that they’re soft.

“Yeah, we’ve heard that before, and UMBC can believe that if they want,” junior guard Jessie Sapp said. “Let them look at the tape. Let them look at all of the tapes. If they want to try to beat us up, they can try. I don’t think they’re going to get very far with it. This is Georgetown. We don’t back down from nobody. One bad game doesn’t make us soft or a bad rebounding team. You learn from those bad games. You correct things. When they throw it up tomorrow, we’ll see how soft we are.”

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