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Defense breaks Hoyas’ slump

- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2009

TAMPA, Fla. | Georgetown buried its slump in the Sun Dome.

Like many before them, the ailing Hoyas left South Florida feeling refreshed and energized thanks to a 65-40 thrashing of one of the Big East's weaker squads.

Exorcising more than a month of demons against the Bulls, Georgetown (14-10, 5-8 Big East) blistered the home team in every imaginable category en route to holding a league opponent to its lowest scoring output since holding Miami to 40 in 1994. It was the Hoyas' second victory in its last nine games.

“It feels good to win,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “No team has really come in here and been able to get and sustain a lead against them. Our focus and our execution was much better. Teams have been scoring against us a little too much and a little too easily for my comfort.

“And at the offensive end we executed. We were patient but not slow. There weren't as many hills and valleys as we've seen.”

Actually, all the valleys belonged to South Florida (8-17, 3-10), which didn't look like the squad that dispatched Marquette just 12 days earlier.

Georgetown maintained the strong effort it used to rally from 16 points down against Syracuse on Saturday before losing in overtime. Sophomore point guard Chris Wright again played the protagonist for the Hoyas, following his 25-point outburst at Syracuse with a game-high 17 points and six assists against the Bulls. And freshman center Greg Monroe collected his fourth double-double of the season (12 points, 10 rebounds).

But if the Hoyas played gamely on a must-win stage with their NCAA tournament hopes on an ER gurney, South Florida's incompetence was the game's overriding theme.

The Bulls shot 31.9 percent from the field, making just one of 12 attempts from 3-point range and going 9-for-23 from the free throw line. They came into the game as the Big East's worst shooting team, and Georgetown's determined defensive effort made certain they exited the contest still holding that slot.

“There's no way to sugarcoat this one. We just got it handed to us,” first-year South Florida coach Stan Heath said. “That's about as poorly as we've played all season. It was inexcusable some of the things that were happening, whether it was our inability to make a free throw or finish a layup.”

The game was essentially decided midway through the first half, when Georgetown got a major lift from senior guard Jessie Sapp (10 points). Supplanted again in the starting lineup by Nikita Mescheriakov, Sapp came off the bench with the Hoyas clinging to a 15-13 lead with just over eight minutes left before intermission and immediately connected on back-to-back 3-pointers to spark a 16-0 Georgetown run.

“Jessie Sapp came in and gave us a huge lift by hitting a couple of baskets in a row,” Thompson said.

After taking care of South Florida, the Hoyas now face arguably the two most important home games of the season in the coming Saturday-Monday set with ranked squads from Marquette and Louisville. Saturday's game against the Golden Eagles will be the centerpiece of a homecoming weekend celebrating the 25th anniversary of the school's 1984 national title team. And a pair of wins likely would put the Hoyas right back in the NCAA tournament picture.

“Hopefully this is a boost,” Wright said. “I know we're going to be ready to play against Marquette.”

Said Heath of the Hoyas: “That is not a 5-8 team. Let's face it. Let's be real. That's just the problem in this conference. They're in the top three in every other league in America. You don't go from top 10 to can't-play in a month and a half. That could only happen in this league.”