- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

MINNEAPOLIS — Georgetown bumped its head against an athletic ceiling in Friday night’s 57-53 Sweet 16 loss to Florida in the Metrodome.

The Hoyas (23-10) weren’t necessarily beaten by a better team. They were beaten by a deeper and more athletic one. And those days may be coming to an end.

Look no further than the game’s two decisive shots for a snapshot of the two teams. Florida’s Corey Brewer, a sophomore swingman with stunning physical attributes and pedestrian skills, made a desperate, one-handed lob from 12 feet to put the Gators (30-6) ahead 55-53 with 27.5 seconds left.

One possession later, with seven seconds left and the season on the line, Brewer fell down, and Georgetown senior Darrel Owens was left with an ultra-enviable, wide-open 3-pointer from the top of the key … and missed.

“That’s basketball,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III, who improved on last season’s 19-13 debut by leading the program to its first NCAA tournament and first Sweet 16 appearance in five years. “We got the shot we wanted for the guy we wanted, a shot he makes probably eight out of 10 times, and it didn’t go in. That’s the breaks.”

Owens, one of three seniors who played their final game for the Hoyas (along with Ashanti Cook and Brandon Bowman), cried as he exchanged hugs with teammates in the locker room after the game.

“I couldn’t have bought a better shot for a million dollars,” said Owens, who entered the game shooting almost 40 percent from 3-point range and rarely missed uncontested looks this season. “You’ve seen me bang that one a million times in practice, and it felt good even after it left my hand. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. I know this hurt is going to stay with me for the rest of my life.”

But this is not the time for head-hanging at Georgetown, not for the three departing seniors who helped Thompson erase the Craig Esherick era in just two seasons, nor for next year’s promising returning cast.

The Hoyas clearly were the better schooled team Friday night, and that’s what makes the loss even more galling for Thompson and Co. Georgetown outrebounded the Gators (32-31), had more than twice as many assists (15-7) and took a quarter as many forced shots (3-13).

But Florida balanced its halfcourt inferiority with 15 fastbreak points (just two in the second half). And the Gators were fortunate to catch Georgetown on a frigid shooting night. The Hoyas made just five of 21 3-pointers, and almost none of them were hotly contested.

Florida also was fortunate that Esherick and not Thompson was coaching the Hoyas three years ago. Otherwise sophomore superstar Joakim Noah would have been playing for the Hoyas. Noah (15 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks) was the most gifted player on the floor Friday night. In one particularly awing sequence early in the second half, the 6-foot-11 center blocked Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert on one side of the rim, slid to the other side to block Jeff Green (15 points, six rebounds, four assists) and then beat everybody down the floor for a transition bucket. Perhaps no other player in the country could have turned in such a series.

And Florida was fortunate that Green picked up three quick fouls in the first four minutes of the second half. Green, though less of a specimen than Noah, is a far more polished player and dominated the first half (12 points, four assists). Georgetown could have used a third capable big man to replace him.

Help is on the way. Georgetown likely will have one of the best frontcourts in the nation next season, when Green and the vastly improved Hibbert (the team’s top two scorers and rebounders) are joined by Indiana transfer and emotional firebrand Patrick Ewing Jr. and top-20 national recruits Vernon Macklin and DaJuan Summers.

Macklin, a McDonald’s All-American from Hargrave Military Academy, is a 6-foot-9, shot-swatting, rebound-inhaling, jumping jack. And Summers, a 6-8 swingman from Baltimore (McDonogh), has the kind of sweet outside stroke that will significantly soften the departure of Bowman.

In fact, the only thing standing between the Hoyas and an even deeper run next March is locating a perimeter shooter. The team loses its two best pure shooters in Cook and Owens. The return of steady point man Jonathan Wallace and seventh man Jessie Sapp gives the Hoyas capable ball-handlers. But they’ll need at least one consistent deep threat to emerge, because such an awesome frontcourt guarantees Georgetown will see nothing but sagging zones next season.

Wallace, Sapp, Summers, freshman Josh Thornton and incoming big guard Jeremiah Rivers (son of Boston Celtics coach Doc) will all compete for that zone-buster role. But regardless of who steps forward to fill that void, the Hoyas are almost certain to be a handful next season.

“To be part of a Sweet 16 with these guys was special,” Owens said. “But when I look around the room and see the guys coming back and think about the talent coming in, whoa, the Sweet 16 is going to be nothing for these guys down the line. I see them winning a national championship, because there are so many underclassmen on this team who know what it takes to win.”

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