- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 5, 2006

TAMPA, Fla. — Georgetown saved its worst for last.

Playing their worst game of the season with a Big East tournament bye on the line in last night’s regular-season finale, the 20th-ranked Hoyas dropped a 63-56 stunner to league doormat South Florida at Sun Dome.

The loss drops the Hoyas (19-8, 10-6 Big East) to fifth place in the league, meaning they will open next week’s Big East tournament on Wednesday afternoon (2 p.m.) against 12th-seeded Notre Dame. But the loss likely will cost the Hoyas far more than just a first-round bye in New York.

Not only does it sting the team’s pride to lose to a South Florida squad previously winless in the Big East (7-22, 1-15), but it’s likely to keep stinging all the way through Selection Sunday, when such a dreadful loss is almost certain to drop the Hoyas one or two spots below the No. 5 or No. 6 seed they were expecting before the shocking setback.

“It’s March. It’s not the time of year for that kind of effort,” a smoldering Georgetown coach John Thompson III said after the loss. “Is it a little disappointing? [Heck], yes. It’s very disappointing.”

Almost from the outset, it was clear the Hoyas as a group were sluggish after a somewhat untimely week off. But there was obviously something else hampering sophomore forward Jeff Green (10 points, four rebounds, four turnovers), who team sources later confirmed was suffering from the effects of an undisclosed illness.

“This was not one of his better performances. There is no doubt about that,” Thompson said when asked about Green’s illness. “You can sit in here and make a lot of excuses, but it’s not the time of year for that.”

Thompson refused to rationalize the loss because of the illness of one player, however important. He apparently didn’t want to look like a poor sport. He didn’t want to take anything away from a South Florida team that sent seniors Solomon Jones (23 points, nine rebounds) and James Holmes (10 points) out with their first and only Big East victory.

And Thompson didn’t want to give the rest of his charges an easy out. One player’s illness doesn’t explain four blown layups, seven missed free throws, 16 turnovers (second worst on the season), only two made 3-pointers (season low) and a lack of intensity and execution on both ends of the floor.

“Do you have to lose a game to learn a lesson?” ranted Thompson, deriding his team with the tone of the question. “Do you have to lose five straight last season to learn a lesson? Do you have to lose three straight this year and then again tonight to learn that you have to bounce back? I don’t know. Maybe we do.”

If Thompson was more riled up after the loss than at any time during his two-year tenure at Georgetown, it was because his team authored its worst loss in two seasons on the doorstep of a postseason that, until last night, seemed rife with possibility and potential.

“How did you guys ever beat Duke?” one South Florida fan screamed at the Georgetown bench as time wound down.

Undoubtedly, it’s exactly that Jekyll-Hyde dichotomy that has made this squad, and particularly its seniors, so maddening to Thompson.

Green was atrocious by his standards last night. On offense, he recorded just one field goal and routinely deferred to teammates instead of claiming his standard role as the dynamic triggerman of the team’s offense. And defensively, the 6-foot-9 sophomore from Hyattsville was even more static, routinely watching helplessly as Jones slashed and jammed his way to a career-high scoring effort.

But Green had an excuse. And the most disappointing element of the loss to Thompson was likely the fact that no one stepped into the leadership void created by Green’s understandable ineffectiveness.

The Hoyas did erase a 21-11 deficit midway through the first half to lead 31-30 at halftime, largely because Thompson benched Green in the final few minutes of the half, and Georgetown responded by closing the first half on a 10-0 run.

But Green, or at least last night’s version, returned to the floor for the entire second half, largely because fellow frontcourt players Roy Hibbert (four points, four rebounds) and Brandon Bowman (six turnovers) were so hapless against an extended South Florida defense, which denied the 3-point shot and begged the Hoyas to drive or dump.

And while Jones, the Bulls’ 6-foot-10 center, was busy scoring eight straight points to stake South Florida to a 55-50 lead it never relinquished with 4:01 left, Georgetown managed just three field goals in the game’s final 12 minutes to seal its fate.

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