- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Welcome to life on the edge.

The Georgetown Hoyas have exhausted their quota of wiggle room this season with losses to Seton Hall and St. John's. Now the Hoyas must beat teams they are supposed to beat, hold serve on their home court and knock off a top-tier squad along the way to get an NCAA tournament spot.

That quest begins tonight for the Hoyas (10-5, 2-3 Big East) at MCI Center against Seton Hall (7-9, 2-4).

"This is it, the season is on the line," shooting guard Gerald Riley said. "Our backs are close to the wall right now. All the players have to come to play."

With 12 games remaining before the Big East tournament March 12-15, the Hoyas can't afford any more slipups against inferior teams. If Georgetown experiences another Seton Hall disaster a game the Hoyas lost by 14 points or another St. John's debacle when the Hoyas blew a 15-point lead with seven minutes remaining, it might have to win the Big East tournament just to qualify for the NCAAs.

"In this business, the margin of error is always very slim, and that is something we have to deal with," coach Craig Esherick said. "Certainly, when you lose a home game like St. John's, it's almost like you've got to get one back now on the road because you gave a game away."

Thus far, the Hoyas have protected their home court. Georgetown is 10-1 this season at MCI, with the St. John's game its only blemish. Home court becomes key especially with No. 2 Pittsburgh, No. 11 Notre Dame, No. 24 Syracuse and UCLA all coming in later in the season.

However, Georgetown is winless (0-4) away from MCI and has six conference road games remaining, including Notre Dame and Syracuse. The Hoyas also have to go to Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Miami and West Virginia all dangerous places to play.

"League games are totally different than non-league games," Esherick said. "You've got to get yourself in a mindset that you're playing teams that are going to be more familiar with you and playing teams with players that are going to be more competitive because it's a league and there is more at stake."

The Hoyas (2-3) are tied for fourth place with West Virginia and two games behind Notre Dame (4-1) and Syracuse (4-1) for third place in the West Division. If the Hoyas finish fourth or fifth in the division, they would face a division winner coming off a bye, in the second round of the Big East tournament.

"People are saying that we are not an NCAA team, but the season is not over yet," said Hoyas forward Mike Sweetney, who is Georgetown's leading scorer (21.3 points) and rebounder (9.5). "We just have to get on the ball and start playing good basketball."

For whatever reason, the Hoyas seem to elevate their game against better competition. In games at Virginia, No. 5 Duke and No. 2 Pitt, the Hoyas took each opponent to the wire before losing. That still doesn't explain getting blasted by Seton Hall two weeks ago or collapsing against St. John's, but it does show that the Hoyas are capable of playing with the best. Now it's up to the them to treat every opponent as if they are a top-ranked team.

Since Christmas, the Hoyas have lost five of their past eight and three of their last four. If they can generate any kind of roll, they may not need the Big East tournament come Selection Sunday.

"It's time to get it going," point guard Tony Bethel said. "I think we're improving every game a little bit at a time. We just need that one break to get it going. We have the potential to be a ranked team."

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