- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

ATLANTA — All the history in the world couldn’t prevent Georgetown’s return to the Final Four from being too short.

The Hoyas, making their first appearance in the national semifinals since 1985, lost 67-60 to Ohio State at the Georgia Dome last night, putting an end to a season that further established the return of Georgetown as a significant national power.

“I’m extremely proud of our group of guys,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said of his Hoyas (30-7). “I’m proud of the year that we had. We are all very disappointed at tonight’s outcome. But we played against a very good team that played very well tonight.”

Thompson’s efficient, disciplined offense has galvanized a program that wallowed in mediocrity before he arrived on the Hilltop three years ago.

That improvement was little solace last night for Thompson, who nearly accomplished the same feat his father did in 1982, 1984 and 1985 — lead the Hoyas to the national title game.

Stars Roy Hibbert (19 points), Jeff Green (nine points) and Jonathan Wallace (19 points) — all juniors — were the on-court forces in the turnaround and this season’s deep run. But even Hibbert getting the better of Ohio State’s Greg Oden in a much-hyped big man battle was not enough against the Buckeyes.

“It obviously will stay for a while,” Wallace said. “It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth to come this far and still know you were one step away from winning it all.”

Ohio State (35-3) will meet Florida in tomorrow night’s title game. The Gators beat UCLA 76-66 in their final to reach the championship for the second straight year.

The excitement of the Final Four has been relatively commonplace in the area this decade, with both Maryland (2001-02) and George Mason (2006) reaching this point. But it had been 22 years since the Hoyas last reached the Final Four, and Georgetown fans clearly relished their return to the sport’s biggest stage.

It was the culmination of a week of anticipation for Georgetown, which needed second-half rallies to get past Boston College, Vanderbilt and North Carolina in its three previous games. And everywhere in town it seemed there was some sign of support for the Hoyas.

There were the gray JTIII T-shirts that have become so prevalent at home games at Verizon Center, the usual chants of “Hoyas Saxa” and “Roy! Roy-Roy-Roy!” — as well as omnipresent reminders of the younger Thompson’s favorite slogan — “We are Georgetown.”

A rowdy contingent of fans was perched several rows behind the basket closest to the Georgetown bench, cheering every Ohio State miscue and bursting into applause whenever the Hoyas assumed a lead. Serving as a backdrop to all of it was a cascade of memories set off with last week’s rally in the regional final. The history of the program — from the heyday Hoya Paranoia to the national title secured in 1984 by center Patrick Ewing and coach John Thompson Jr.

And while the presence of a Thompson and a Ewing in both past and present remained a topic of discussion, it was the subject of two 7-footers — Georgetown’s Hibbert and Ohio State’s Oden — that was thoroughly vetted leading into the meeting.

It was hardly a factor in the first half as Oden picked up a pair of offensive fouls in the first three minutes and remained planted on the bench for the rest of the half. Georgetown initially could not capitalize, but Hibbert eventually got rolling and helped the Hoyas pull to within a point, 15-14 — before he, too, was slapped with his second foul.

Georgetown lingered deep into the game — holding a short-lived 34-33 lead early in the second half and remaining as close as a possession until just over eight minutes remained. Green had a chance to cut into a 56-52 deficit but was called for a charge with 2:32 left. On the next trip down the floor, Oden (13 points) hit a jumper over Hibbert to bump the lead to six.

The Hoyas never drew any closer than five points as the Buckeyes finished things off at the foul line. But even as the sting of a season cut two victories short of a coveted prize sunk in, the Hoyas still were cheered after the final buzzer sounded.

“We had a great season — regular season Big East champions, Big East champions of the tournament,” Green said. “To make it this far in the tournament, it’s hard to end it like this, but we had a great run. We can’t hang our heads down. We beat some of the top teams in the nation to make it to this point, but tonight wasn’t our night.”

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