- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2009

No. 10 Marquette sounded the first unofficial death knell on Georgetown’s vanishing NCAA tournament hopes Saturday at Verizon Center.

In an all-too-familiar refrain from a season of disappointment on the Hilltop, the Hoyas stumbled down the stretch against the Golden Eagles and fell 78-72. Now needing a sweep of their remaining four regular-season games to reach the .500 mark in Big East play, the Hoyas (14-11, 5-9) host No. 7 Louisville on Monday night after playing themselves into a must-win hole.

“I don’t want to oversimplify it, but in many ways it’s experience,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “I don’t think we played poorly today. We showed improvement in a few areas. But coming down the stretch in these tight games, we have to execute better than the other team. And tonight that [Marquette] group - and they’re all seniors - executed better at the key stretches.”

The Big East’s most seasoned squad, the Golden Eagles (23-4, 12-2) start four seniors and a junior. And that group never blinked when the Hoyas opened a 52-47 lead on a baseline jumper from DaJuan Summers with 15:56 remaining. Instead, Marquette responded by cranking up the defensive intensity, denying low-block position to Georgetown center Greg Monroe on one end and stretching the Hoyas with its constant dribble penetration on the other.

At 6-foot-11, Monroe had a considerable height advantage on Marquette’s Dwight Burke (6-8) and Lazar Hayward (6-6). Yet after the freshman scored Georgetown’s first two buckets of the second half, he didn’t score again in the final 18:27. He received most of his second-half touches 18 to 20 feet away from the basket, where he can’t do much damage.

“I think we actually did a good job of getting Greg the ball,” said sophomore guard Chris Wright, who scored a team-high 17 points. “I think he had a lot of touches. It’s hard to always get him the ball in a position where you guys think he should get the ball. He got the ball in spots where he can be effective, and today they made plays down the stretch and we just came up short.”

After Georgetown took a 55-53 lead on a driving layup and three-point play from Wright with 12:31 remaining, the Hoyas’ offense vanished. Without Monroe as the focal point down low, the Hoyas managed four field goals in the next 12:16.

The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, put the ball in the hands of guard Jerel McNeal, and the senior exploded past his defender time and time again, dropping tough buckets in traffic or finding open teammates. Three times in the last four minutes, McNeal, who scored 22 points and added seven assists, extended Marquette leads to six points with his acrobatic stylings.

The final McNeal gutshot came with the Golden Eagles leading 71-67 and just under a minute remaining. After nursing the shot clock under five seconds, McNeal exploded past his defender, drawing help from two other Georgetown defenders, and then dumped the ball down to reserve Jimmy Butler for an uncontested layup to put the Golden Eagles up 73-67 with 52 seconds remaining.

“Between Jerel and [Dominic] James and [Wesley] Matthews and Hayward, they are completely in sync with what they want to accomplish,” Thompson said.

The Hoyas returned to film study for the Louisville game after the Marquette loss and will practice Sunday, the team’s customary postgame off day.

“It’s difficult, because we were in this game again and we had another great opportunity to come out with a win,” Wright said. “But it’s over. We’ve got to go on to the next game. We’ve got a big game Monday and we’ve got to get focused for that game. It’s over.

“It is what it is, and you can’t dwell on it anymore. You’ve got to move on to the next game.”