- The Washington Times - Monday, February 21, 2005

NEW YORK — Welcome to the days of desperation.

Georgetown’s solid standing as an NCAA tournament at-large invitee dissolved sometime during yesterday’s dispassionate display against lowly St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.

The Hoyas didn’t just lose to the Red Storm, who parlayed a 16-point lead at intermission into a 76-67 victory over suddenly struggling Georgetown (16-8, 8-5 Big East).

They lost face.

They lost chits with the NCAA tournament selection committee by dropping a late-season game against a member of the Big East’s basement bunch, stumbling for the first time this season against one of the league’s sub-.500 teams. NCAA tournament teams are not supposed to lose to St. John’s (9-14, 3-10) — not in late February, not on any court.

But perhaps more importantly, they lost touch with Thompson tradition. The Hoyas weren’t bested yesterday by a team with arguably superior personnel and flawless defensive execution, as they were in their last two losses at Boston College and Notre Dame.

Yesterday, the Hoyas were bested by a demonstrably less talented bunch whom they failed to defend.

Thompson teams, those belonging to both the Hall of Fame father and the quickly rising son, are overmatched in regard to intensity and effort about as often as Dick Vitale is struck speechless. But yesterday, the Hoyas were thrashed in the want-to category, yielding to a Red Storm group that should be lauded for not giving up on a season that was lost long ago.

“They outplayed us today. There’s no other way to articulate it,” John Thompson III said after watching his charges yield a season-high 45 first-half points to the Red Storm. “[Ryan] Williams gave them a huge boost in the first half. And they made shots. They put the ball in the basket.”

Williams would be the 6-foot-5 junior reserve who entered the game averaging 4.8 points but came off the bench yesterday to hit all three of his first-half 3-pointers en route to a career-high 14-point performance. Williams, like the rest of a St. John’s squad that shot a scorching 57.7 percent from the field in the first half, was obviously feeling his stroke yesterday. But like the rest of his teammates, he also was virtually unguarded.

“In the Seton Hall game I got yelled at for not shooting,” said Williams, who attributed his modest season stats to his overly tentative approach. “Usually, I do need some prompting from Coach. But today, I was just wide open, and I couldn’t pass shots up.”

Incredibly, Williams wasn’t even the most surprising contributor for the Red Storm. That honor goes to 6-8 senior Phil Missere (10 points, 10 rebounds), a career walk-on given a scholarship just three weeks ago who came off the bench to record the first double-double of his career.

Missere paced a Red Storm frontline that outrebounded Georgetown 39-23 despite getting only 15 minutes of service out of foul-saddled power forward Lamont Hamilton. Entering the game, Hamilton (who had 10 points and four rebounds) wasn’t just the Red Storm’s primary man in the middle at 13.4 points and 7.8 rebounds a game, he was their only consistent pivot presence.

“People ask why we’re playing this kid,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said in reference to Missere. “You saw why today. Phil works hard every day. He’s an energy guy for us.”

And frankly, energy was the difference in yesterday’s game. The Hoyas didn’t lose because they shot a woeful 4-for-21 from 3-point range. They still scored 67 points, bettering their season average (64.7), as yet again forwards Jeff Green (20 points) and Brandon Bowman (19 points) turned in superb offensive performances.

The Hoyas lost this game on the defensive end, where they failed to block out and were routinely a step slower than the Red Storm.

Perhaps this young Georgetown group, with three freshman starters, is simply out of juice. Perhaps their modest talent level is finally catching up with them. Or perhaps, like the baseball cliche regarding pitchers, Thompson’s Princeton offense is far less daunting to teams the second time around.

Whatever the reason, Georgetown has a week to find a cure before facing a surging Villanova team at MCI Center in what is now clearly the team’s most important game of the season. If they want to avoid the necessity of Big East tournament heroics, the Hoyas might need to win two of their three remaining games (Villanova, at Connecticut, Providence) to have a strong chance at making the NCAA tournament.

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