- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

NEW YORK — Never mind that Georgetown just tied a modern school record with its ninth consecutive loss, suffered only its second losing season since 1972-73 and won’t be invited to a postseason tournament for the first time in 30 years. Coach Craig Esherick promises “help is on the way” for his embattled program.

That’s about all Esherick could say yesterday after this disastrous season finally ended.

Boston College forward Craig Smith led the interior onslaught with a game-high 16 points and 14 rebounds as the fifth-seeded Eagles ousted 12th seed Georgetown from the Big East tournament with a workmanlike 68-57 first-round victory before 19,173 at Madison Square Garden.

The Hoyas finished 13-15 in Esherick’s sixth season, losing 15 of their last 18 games. Meanwhile, BC (22-8) will play 19th-ranked and fourth-seeded Syracuse (21-6) in today’s quarterfinals.

Asked for his comments on the season, Esherick replied, “Number one, help is on the way — stay tuned, stay tuned. Number two, I think that I’m disappointed, I think the players are disappointed. I think that when I look back on the season, the one thing I am going to think is that our guys did the best they possibly could.

“I think in a lot of games, we were overmatched, and I think some of that was probably recruiting more so than anything that we could have done in relation to the particular game. I’m thinking, specifically, about the Duke and Connecticut games. I am going to make the assumption that will be taken care of when we get the new guys in uniform next year.”

Asking incoming freshmen to be the cavalry in a tough conference like the Big East is a risky proposition. Roy Hibbert, a 7-foot-2 center from Georgetown Prep, leads Esherick’s arriving class. Jeff Green, a 6-8 forward from Northwestern High School in Hyattsville, has been outstanding recently during Maryland’s high school playoffs. Cornelio Guibunda, a 6-9 forward from Mozambique, is a big man who can run the floor.

“I thought we got pushed around a little bit too much,” Esherick said. “I thought we got pushed around by teams in our league and I thought we got pushed around by teams outside our league, and that’s not going to happen next year.”

It definitely happened yesterday. BC’s frontline of the 6-7, 265-pound Smith, 6-8, 262-pound center Uka Agbai and 6-7 small forward Jared Dudley accounted for half the Eagles’ points. Smith had 10 of his 16 points in the second half. Dudley, a unanimous choice for the Big East’s All-Rookie team, contributed 12 points, and the rugged Agbai had 11.

“I love playing on this floor,” Smith said of his ninth double-double of the season. “It’s the world’s most famous arena — who wouldn’t want to get a chance to play on this floor?”

Georgetown double-teamed Smith, a first team All-Big East selection, most of the first half. BC responded by using Smith as a decoy while Dudley and Agbai combined for 12 points in the half, enough for the Eagles to fashion a 27-22 lead.

BC’s frontline accounted for 23 of its 39 rebounds for the game. As expected with a formidable interior, the Eagles crushed the Hoyas on the glass 39-27, including 12 offensive rebounds.

The first half looked like the Eagles were holding something back, knowing that if they are indeed going to win this tournament for the third time in the last eight years, they will have to win four games in four days.

“I coached my ‘A’ game. I don’t know if it looked like that, but I coached it,” BC coach Al Skinner said. “You have to ask the players if they held anything back. I don’t necessarily think so.”

In the first half, the Hoyas received the most points from a most unlikely source — freshman point guard Matt Causey. Perhaps this was a quick preview of the future, but the poor-shooting Hoyas certainly welcomed Causey’s team-high eight points in the first 20 minutes.

But even with Causey’s 3-for-3 shooting from the field, the Hoyas shot 34 percent (nine of 26) in the first half. Causey, who came into the game averaging 1.9, took control of Georgetown’s offense and finished with a career-high 12 points. And with five assists, the 5-11 Causey made a strong statement to Esherick that he should be the starting point guard next season.

“He played extremely well,” Esherick said. “But one thing I’ve never done — I never did it as an assistant coach, and I’ve never done it as a head coach — I never promised anybody that they were going to start.”

Esherick, who was given a contract extension through 2009 after last season, also offered a parting shot to his many critics.

“I think every profession but the coaching profession is permitted to have a bad year,” he said. “I certainly resent the heck out of it as a coach. But I’m not going to sit up here and say we had a great year — we didn’t.”

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