- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Georgetown has its heart set on a Garden party.

Spirits were surprisingly high on the Hilltop yesterday, as the Hoyas prepared for tonight’s first-round NIT matchup with Boston University at MCI Center. After a month’s worth of NCAA tournament bubble pressure, which the young team did not handle well, perhaps the Hoyas are simply happy to have a clean slate and a new goal.

“I don’t think anyone has any thoughts about going home anytime soon,” said junior forward Brandon Bowman, immediately dispelling any notion that the Hoyas would be too busy lamenting their NCAA-sabotaging 1-6 stretch run to muster the requisite dose of enthusiasm to contend in the NIT. “We want to play for the next three weeks and win this thing. It’s a chance to turn some more heads and get ready for next year.”

The Hoyas (17-12) actually pulled out of their late-season death spiral at last week’s Big East tournament, ending a five-game losing streak with a first-round victory over Seton Hall and nearly edging regular-season co-champion Connecticut in a quarterfinal that might have been the team’s best performance of the season.

Though the Hoyas fell to the Huskies 66-62 after a potential game-tying jumper from guard Ashanti Cook came up just short, Georgetown shot 48 percent from the field (the highest percentage given up by Connecticut this season) and committed just 10 turnovers (the team’s fewest in two months) against the Huskies’ imposing fullcourt trap.

Don’t think the Hoyas’ performance and the near-upset stress endured by the Huskies didn’t play a major role in Friday’s marquee semifinal, as quarterfinal blowout winner Syracuse thrashed a seemingly fatigued UConn bunch en route to the conference crown.

If the Hoyas can string together a series of performances comparable to that Big East quarterfinal effort, there’s no reason to think they won’t make a return trip to Madison Square Garden for the NIT’s final four (March 29-31).

The quest begins at home tonight against the Terriers (20-8) of the America East Conference. Like a less athletic version of the Georgetown teams of old, BU does one thing, and really only one thing, exceptionally well — it knows defense. The Terriers led the nation in field-goal percentage defense (36.8 percent) this season.

“I don’t always look at those stats. But in looking at the tapes, I’m sitting there saying that they’re a very, very good defensive team,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III. “It’s just their hardness. They’re a senior team. They’re a team that has won at least 20 games four years in a row. So, there’s nothing that we’re going to do that they’re going to be surprised about. They go out and beat Michigan by 11. They lose to BC by six at Conte [Forum] in a game that was tight the whole way. They’re tough.”

But they’re not as talented on the offensive end of the floor, and they’re neither as long nor as athletic as the Hoyas. That’s likely the reason Las Vegas oddsmakers have installed the Hoyas as a nine-point favorite to win tonight and a pick ‘em co-favorite (along with former Big East foe Miami, which lost to South Carolina last night) to reach the NIT semifinals. In its last trip to the postseason two years ago, Georgetown sprinted through the NIT field before losing to St. John’s in the championship game.

“I remember my freshman year when we went to the NIT finals, there were only like six teams left playing in the country, so that was a good feeling,” Bowman said. “We want to get back to that. We want to be one of the only teams in the country left playing.”

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