- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009

NEW YORK | Georgetown’s must-win sprint in the Big East tournament died in the starting blocks.

Adding yet another chapter to a season defined by underachievement, the Hoyas wilted in Madison Square Garden against St. John’s for the second time in less than a week, falling 64-59 to the Red Storm in the opening round of the league tournament Tuesday.

“I can’t believe we’re going home, but we are,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III, whose Hoyas (16-14) fell to 2-7 this season in games decided by five points or fewer or in overtime. “It’s extremely disappointing. They all are. I can’t think of any loss that’s a good, happy loss.”

The circumstances of Tuesday’s flameout couldn’t quite match the angst of the previous week’s meltdown at the Garden. It was then that the Hoyas blew a 15-point second-half lead and their last gasp at an NCAA tournament at-large berth en route to an overtime loss to the Red Storm (16-16). The 12th-seeded Hoyas never had more than a tenuous hold during Tuesday’s loss, just the fifth in the program’s 30 opening-round appearances in the Big East tournament.

But given that the defeat officially ends the team’s NCAA tournament dreams, leaving Georgetown hoping for a Sunday-night NIT bid, perhaps the encore against the 13th-seeded Red Storm rates equally painful.

Like everything else about the season, there were moments of promise in the uber-physical first-round contest. Freshman center Greg Monroe (13 points, eight rebounds, four blocks) fouled out, and sophomore playmaker Chris Wright (14 points) was limited to 24 foul-strapped minutes of action.

When senior guard Jessie Sapp popped a step-back 3-pointer with 6:42 remaining, Georgetown completed a 12-0 run to take a 49-46 lead. Both the Hoyas and the surprisingly pro-Georgetown crowd sensed the team was primed to morph into the same squad that began the season 12-3 with victories over Connecticut, Memphis and Syracuse.

“I did [think we had turned a corner],” Thompson said. “I felt we were in a pretty good position. I thought we were in a pretty good mindset. But coming down the stretch, we didn’t make plays.”

In an all-too-familiar refrain, the Hoyas locked up offensively down the stretch. Leading scorer DaJuan Summers (nine points) clanked a 3-point attempt and committed a costly turnover on consecutive possessions. Reserve forward Julian Vaughn followed with a turnover of his own and then compounded the error by hacking St. John’s Paris Horne (23 points) at the other end.

And as the Hoyas self-destructed, Horne filled the protagonist role, turning Vaughn’s foul into an old-fashioned three-point play and then taking the modern approach on the Red Storm’s next possession to give St. John’s a 56-52 lead with 2:35 remaining.

Granted a working margin, Horne and the Red Storm were relentless from the free throw line down the stretch, hitting six of seven tosses from the line.

Georgetown’s proverbial last gasp provided a perfect microcosm for the entire season. Trailing 62-59, the Hoyas called a timeout with 15.3 seconds remaining to set up a final play. According to Wright, one of his teammates was out of position before the final sequence began. But the result likely would have been the same for this ill-fated bunch.

Smothered by a double-team 25 feet from the rim, Georgetown sophomore Austin Freeman passed to swingman Nikita Mescheriakov deep in the right corner. With a St. John’s player running at him, Georgetown’s Belorussian sophomore fired up perhaps the ugliest shot of the season… hitting the side of the backboard with 3.2 seconds remaining to seal the team’s fate.

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