Exams done, Hoyas face another big test

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John Thompson III knows all about the post-exam haze.

His 11th-ranked Georgetown Hoyas (8-0) celebrated last week’s two victories over ranked teams with a rhythm-halting exam break. And after a week of practices defined by spotty attendance (because of academic commitments) and distracted, bleary-eyed concentration, Old Dominion (6-4) comes calling Saturday night in a classic trap-game setup.

“There’s no question that your rhythm is broken by exam week,” Thompson said. “Guys have been up late studying or working on papers, and some guys have had to miss practices because of conflicts with finals. As a result, we’ve had some spotty practices, and that’s normal. It’s not like programs all over the country aren’t dealing with the same thing, but you always worry about your team’s focus coming out of exams, particularly when your opponent’s as good as Old Dominion.”

On Nov. 19, 2006, in the third game of a season in which the Hoyas plowed through the Big East en route to the Final Four, the Monarchs ambushed then-No. 8 Georgetown at McDonough Gymnasium, snapping the Hoyas’ 22-game winning streak in their cozy, on-campus court by a score of 75-62. Eventual Big East player of the year Jeff Green scored just two points in that game before fouling out. And steady point man Jon Wallace finished with an atypically sloppy five turnovers in the loss.

“What concerns you is that this team they have right now might be better than that group,” Thompson said. “They are considerably stronger this season than their record might indicate.”

There is only one remaining holdover on either team from that 2006 upset, and he might be the key player on the floor Saturday night. The focal point of Old Dominion’s attack is senior Gerald Lee (14.2 points, 5.0 rebounds), a 6-foot-10 center from Finland who came off the bench as a freshman in the 2006 game to score two points and collect two rebounds.

Most Georgetown fans remember Lee from the following season, when the Hoyas beat the Monarchs handily at the Constant Convocation Center 66-48 despite a monster performance from Lee (24 points, 12 rebounds), who trumped senior All-American Roy Hibbert by tormenting the Hoyas in the paint with 10 offensive rebounds.

“He was terrific that night,” Thompson said. “He killed us on the boards as I recall. He’s still there, and he’s better. The ball just seems to find him, and then he knows how to find the basket.”

Thus far this season, Georgetown’s greatest area of improvement is its interior defense. Thanks to the expanded role of junior forward-center Julian Vaughn (career-high 18 points vs. Washington) and more-assertive play from sophomore Greg Monroe (15.3 points, 10.3 rebounds), the Hoyas have dominated on the boards this season while holding the last four primary big men they’ve faced to an average of just 5.3 points.

Said Thompson: “We’ve certainly taken some steps forward down low, but Lee presents a stiff challenge for Julian and Greg as we move toward Big East play.”

While Lee is undoubtedly the team’s cornerstone, Old Dominion is a tough matchup because the Monarchs also boast six other players averaging six points or better.

“It’s not like Washington, [whom the Hoyas beat 74-66 on Saturday], where you can focus on two guys [Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas] and feel pretty good about your chances,” said Thompson, whose team is attempting to notch the best start of his six-year stint on the Hilltop. “They are not dissimilar to us in that they have six or seven guys who can hurt you. I’m interested to see how we react to the combination of last week’s success and a rigorous week of exams.”

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