- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006

It’s now or never, if Georgetown’s senior trio ever expects to prove its stretch-run steel.

Starting with tonight’s matchup at MCI Center against frontcourt-bankrupt Rutgers (15-11, 5-8 Big East), the 23rd-ranked Hoyas (17-7, 8-5) close the regular season with a three-game set against opponents who look like the perfect fodder for a slide-stopping, momentum-building sprint into March.

The Hoyas will be favored in all three games — Rutgers, Syracuse and at South Florida. A chalk finish would not only atone for the squad’s three-game skid but undoubtedly secure both the program’s first NCAA tournament bid and a solid seed for next month’s madness.

But with Vegas predicting a sweep, the Hoyas’ recent history screams, “Hang on.”

Georgetown’s present slide is all too familiar to coach John Thompson III. That’s because during the last two-plus seasons, the Hoyas have been absolutely abysmal down the stretch.

Last season, of course, Georgetown finished the regular season with five consecutive losses, blowing and then bursting its own NCAA tournament bubble. The season before under floundering coach Craig Esherick, the team finished with nine straight losses. In the last two-plus seasons, the Hoyas are 4-19 in games after Feb. 10 with just one regular-season win.

And if you’re looking for constants in that formula, look no further than seniors Brandon Bowman, Ashanti Cook and D.J. Owens.

Georgetown’s swingman, shooting guard and sixth man were subjected to a culture of failure in two seasons under Esherick. They added another layer of psychological scar tissue during last season’s swoon. And perhaps it’s no coincidence that their play and leadership has fallen off most noticeably during the team’s current three-game losing streak.

Always a streaky shooter, Owens seems to have lost his confidence from behind the 3-point line during the skid, missing eight of 10 3s and routinely passing up other open looks. Cook, the least culpable of the three, rebounded from miserable performances against West Virginia (1-for-9 from the field) and Marquette (1-for-7 from 3-point range) with a solid outing against Villanova (16 points).

Bowman’s trend is the most disconcerting, particularly for a player who led the team in scoring through 23 games. The 6-foot-9 slasher has become increasingly less visible during the three-game slide, watching his scoring dip from 15 points (West Virginia) to seven (Marquette) to four (Villanova). That vanishing act is the opposite of what you’d expect from a four-year staple who will make his 119th consecutive start for the Hoyas tonight against the Scarlet Knights. And while Thompson has been careful not to slam his seniors to the press, nobody missed the fact that Bowman’s four-point, zero-rebound effort against the Wildcats earned him a place beside the coach on the bench for the bulk of Sunday’s second half.

“It’s senior year, and they know what they’re playing for,” Thompson said yesterday. “They know what they’re capable of and what’s at stake. Now, it’s just a matter of getting it done.”

The first step toward reversing the slide is slowing down Rutgers’ Quincy Douby, a 6-foot-3 junior guard who leads the Big East in scoring (24.6 points).

“He’s gotten significantly better this season,” Thompson said of Douby. “He’s scoring in every way possible. He might have the deepest range in the league. He makes long, long shots, and that’s nothing new. But what he’s improved on is his ability to take guys off the dribble. He can get to the rim. He can hit the pull-up jumper. And though his assist numbers aren’t huge [3.1 a game], he’s become a much better passer. He’s a handful.”

The good news for Georgetown is that Douby doesn’t have much help, particularly on the inside, where Rutgers absorbed a major blow when freshman force JR Inman went down earlier this month with a broken leg.

Georgetown’s frontline of Bowman and sophomores Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert should enjoy success against the Scarlet Knights. But tonight’s outcome, and indeed the remainder of the season, largely depends on the intensity and impact of the slumping seniors.

“Jeff and Roy can have big games against anyone at any time,” said Thompson. “But what we need is for everyone to show up, and then we’ll go from there.”


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