- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

The stakes have changed for the surprising Hoyas.

For the first time in four seasons, Georgetown (11-4, 3-1 Big East) finds itself in the top quarter of the Big East standings and earning early nominations as one of the season’s most startling success stories.

Picked to finish 11th in the league in a preseason poll of the conference coaches, the Hoyas already have exceeded those expectations with a Big East start that includes road wins over Pittsburgh and Villanova.

First-year coach John Thompson III and his young Hoyas already have served notice that high-caliber hoops has returned to the Hilltop. Though the season is only half over and conference competition still in its infancy, it’s fairly evident the Hoyas are a postseason team. Over the next 11 days, starting tonight at No.7 Syracuse (17-1, 4-0), the Hoyas will play a handful of games likely to shape the degree of their contention in the conference.

“They’re starting to figure it out,” said Thompson, whose Hoyas play three of their next four games against teams tied with or ahead of them in the standings — at Syracuse, Notre Dame (Sunday), at Boston College (Jan.29). “We’ve got a long way to go, but guys are learning to lean on one another, to step forward as a group by sharing individually. We’re developing into quite a resilient group.”

Resilience and success in close games are crucial for teams with pedestrian talent. And while the Hoyas are severely lacking in frontcourt depth and brawn, as well as perimeter size and quickness, they have proved sublimely stubborn in the clutch.

In each of its three league wins, Georgetown trailed by six points or more in the second half. And in their only conference loss, 66-59 to Connecticut, the Hoyas rallied from a 39-19 deficit at intermission against one the nation’s most dominant frontcourts.

And the Hoyas have posted a flawless 3-0 record in games decided by five points or less. Saturday’s last-second baseball pass from junior guard Ashanti Cook and resulting game-winning free throws from Darrel Owens against Villanova typify an early season defined by closing heroics instead of the stretch swoons that plagued the program in recent seasons.

Thompson never would claim credit for the reversal in the team’s closing karma. But with the notable exception of three-time Big East rookie of the week Jeff Green (13.5 points, 7.5 rebounds), this basically is the same bunch of Hoyas who collapsed time and again during last season’s woeful campaign (13-15, 4-12 Big East).

That said, the Hoyas need to reverse the trend of early deficits if they hope to topple the likes of Syracuse, Notre Dame (11-3, 3-1) and Boston College (14-0, 3-0).

Tonight’s hurdle clearly is the highest. With senior All-American Hakim Warrick (19.7 points, 8.7 rebounds), junior gunner Gerry McNamara (15.1 points, 5.3 assists) and an average crowd of 19,744 zealots at the Carrier Dome, Syracuse represents the Big East’s ultimate road test.

The Hoyas have not beaten a top-10 team since Jan.28, 2002, when they dropped the Orangemen at MCI Center 75-60. But this Georgetown group already boasts a road victory over No.16 Pittsburgh (67-64), and Thompson’s high-post-centric motion offense is the textbook attack to employ against Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone. And while a Georgetown victory tonight would be a stunner, it hardly would be out of character for a team that has spent the first half of the season goosing the gurus and shocking with success.

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