- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

John Thompson III unveiled his eighth-ranked Georgetown Hoyas yesterday, and unheralded Hartford proceeded to expose all their faults.

Georgetown held off Hartford 69-59 at Verizon Center, beginning a season of perhaps inflated expectations with a somewhat deflating performance.

The Hoyas (1-0) needed a late 15-6 run to pull away from the Hawks (0-1) of the America East Conference.

“I don’t think that our guys have any illusions of anything,” Thompson said. “I think our guys know exactly where we stand. We have to improve. No. 8 or No. 80 doesn’t matter or enter our consciousness. We have to prepare and we have to get better. I don’t think anyone came into this game with any illusions. I’m not going to go into the next game with any illusions. And I’m not going to go into Old Dominion [Nov. 19] with any illusions regardless of what happens down in Tennessee.”

The Hoyas face Vanderbilt on Wednesday in Nashville. Vanderbilt beat Georgetown on its own floor last season (68-61) behind a 20-point effort from 6-foot-6 shooting guard Shan Foster, a returning standout and dark horse candidate for SEC player of the year honors.

It is the season opener for the Commodores, who will no doubt spend considerable time watching tape of yesterday’s game. Hartford provided the virtual template for tormenting Georgetown’s offense.

The Hawks, not the Hoyas, set the tone for the game, dictating both the pace and style of play. Knowing that Georgetown’s junior interior tandem of 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert (16 points, five rebounds) and 6-9 forward Jeff Green (17 points, seven rebounds, four assists) is strength of the team, Hartford played an outrageously sagging zone, daring the Hoyas to shoot from the outside.

But first-year Hawks coach Dan Leibovitz, who spent 10 seasons as an assistant to Temple coach John Chaney, also perfectly prepared his players on which players to defend outside. Hartford committed the bulk of its perimeter focus to checking Georgetown junior guard Jon Wallace (13 points), who was without Ashanti Cook, Darrel Owens and Brandon Bowman to help outside.

With Hartford’s zone inside and concentration on Wallace outside, the two Hoyas left on the floor were constantly in the shooter’s spotlight.

Enter Georgetown junior Tyler Crawford, a career role player with 14 shots last season, who yesterday led Georgetown in field goal attempts (12) — a recipe for disaster that nearly resulted in the season’s first big upset.

As a result, Thompson’s Princeton offense struggled against Hartford’s compact zone defense.

“They packed it in. When we got it in, there were three, four or five people around our interior guys, we kicked it out and got open shots and didn’t make as many as we will,” Thompson said. “I won’t overanalyze it. We have guys that put the ball in the basket, and it didn’t go in today. We were getting shots, but they were taking away everything on the interior.”

Though Crawford was the principal culprit (3-for-12), the entire team became frustrated and struggled accordingly.

Green committed a game-high six turnovers. Hibbert missed a variety of point-blank shots in traffic. And aside from Wallace (3-for-6), who accounted for half of the team’s converted 3s, the Hoyas were awful from behind the arc (6-for-23).

The smallish Hawks, on the other hand, shot the ball solidly from 3-point range (9-for-26) and pulled within one point of Georgetown (54-53) on a long jumper from Reston native Bo Taylor (12 points) with 6:53 left in the game. But on an afternoon defined by pessimism and the plucky Hawks, Georgetown at least closed strong, receiving stretch-run boosts from a unfamiliar group.

Sophomore guards Jessie Sapp and Marc Egerson both made huge plays in the game’s closing minutes, providing the kind of help Green, Hibbert and Wallace had been awaiting all game.

Sapp’s steal and layup after a teammate’s miss and Hartford rebound extended the Georgetown lead to 56-53 with 6:18 left. The 6-foot-3 sophomore then waded in among the trees for a putback at the 2:00 mark that stretched the lead to 62-56. Egerson then capped the most aggressive performance of his career by burying the Hawks with a 3-pointer from the right wing to put the Hoyas ahead 65-56 on the team’s next possession.

“Both Marc and Jessie came up huge down the stretch,” Wallace said. “Big-time players make plays at big-time moments, and that’s what both of those guys did. It’s a growing process for all of us. We’re still adjusting to one another and new roles as a young backcourt. I think those two guys took a big step in the right direction down the stretch today.”

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