- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2001

NEW YORK Georgetown is now endowed with the most precious commodity in March: momentum.

Its midseason slump now merely a memory, No. 18 Georgetown blows into its Big East tournament opener today against Seton Hall bearing all the earmarks of a team peaking at the perfect time.

Forgotten is the futile month between Jan. 20 and Feb. 21 when a team that started 16-0 lost six of 10 while skeptics snickered. Forgotten is the weak non-conference schedule, the series of late-game swoons and the disappointment that surrounded much of center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje's senior season.

It took the Hoyas (23-6) just eight days to quiet their critics with two victories over ranked teams, Syracuse and Notre Dame. Given his play in those wins, Boumtje Boumtje looks to be back. With the Hoyas riding three straight wins, only Boston College in the Big East can claim to be playing at the same level. And even the Eagles don't come close to matching Georgetown's balance. Quite simply, the Hoyas are humming, and the question swirling around Madison Square Garden yesterday wasn't whether Georgetown was headed for the NCAA tournament but how far could it go in the big bracket.

"Everybody thought our backs were to the wall a couple of weeks ago," junior point man Kevin Braswell said. "They thought we were a bubble team and overrated and all that. But now I guess everybody has to look at us a little differently, take us more seriously. Now we're in a position to do some damage in the postseason."

That postseason begins against the sleeping beast that is Seton Hall (15-13). The Hoyas beat the Pirates twice this season, posting a 12-point victory at MCI Center on Jan. 6 and then becoming the first team to drop Seton Hall at the Meadowlands (99-91) on Jan. 15. After the first game, a well-publicized fight broke out in the Seton Hall locker room between junior point guard Ty Shine and star freshman forward Eddie Griffin, who claimed the ball wasn't being passed to him enough. Shine emerged with a shiner, and the Pirates' team chemistry was reduced to a shambles for the better part of the season.

But Seton Hall, the preseason favorite to win both the Big East West division and the conference tournament, seemingly has started to right itself over the last week. The Pirates held off Connecticut 65-63 last Saturday to secure a place in the Big East tournament and then easily dispatched St. John's 78-66 in the first round yesterday. The mini-streak marks the first time Seton Hall has won consecutive games since Jan. 3.

"We had some some ups and downs, but it wasn't totally a wipeout of a year," said Seton Hall coach Tommy Amaker. "I think sometimes it was portrayed that way, that we were just in complete disarray. But we never believed that… . It took our kids to be able to hang together, stay tough together and not listen to outside forces, to believe that we still have good players and we still have a good system. I thought the last couple of games our kids have displayed that attitude."

It's going to take a lot more than a positive attitude for the Pirates to beat a Georgetown bunch that has played its best two games of the season over the last 12 days. The renaissance of Boumtje Boumtje, who might have played the most complete game of his career Sunday against Notre Dame (16 points, nine rebounds, three blocks, three steals), combined with the emergence of sophomore shooting guard Demetrius Hunter (nearly 50 percent from 3-point range over the last month), adds two more offensive options to a team that has leaned heavily on Braswell and freshman forward Mike Sweetney for most of the season.

"I'm very pleased with our development over the last couple of weeks," coach Craig Esherick said yesterday. "I guess I'm happiest for Ruben because he went through a rough patch, much like our team, where he wasn't playing up to his capabilities. I'm extremely happy that he's turned that around. Kevin and Mike have been solid all season, and with Ruben playing at a high level at both ends, and Demetrius shooting like he has, we have a very balanced team."

Esherick's 10-man rotation lends itself perfectly to a grueling format like the Big East tournament. In fact, thanks to its traditional depth and bruising style, Georgetown is 19-2 in Big East tournament openers the team's last loss coming in 1988. And today the Hoyas likely will try to exploit the inevitable fatigue of a Seton Hall team that took part in a 49-foul war yesterday against St. John's.

"We certainly are going to play against a team that is one of the better teams in the country, and one of the deepest," Amaker said. "We're very concerned about our fatigue going against their depth. They're going to be very fresh. It's going to be a big challenge for us, and we'll need a little luck."

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