- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

Georgetown enters Big East play today against resurgent Notre Dame down a role player but on a roll, thanks in large part to the comeback contributions of co-captain Tyler Crawford.

Thursday’s news that sixth man Marc Egerson was leaving school because of personal reasons likely translates into extended minutes for Crawford, pushing the team’s heart-and-soul soldier squarely into the spotlight.

Of the team’s core quartet of juniors, Crawford most often is overlooked by outsiders. And, to some degree, for good reason. Unlike center and leading scorer Roy Hibbert (11.9 points, 6.4 rebounds), forward Jeff Green (11.7 points, 6.4 rebounds) or point guard Jon Wallace (11.2 points), Crawford isn’t a starter, doesn’t average double figures in scoring and likely won’t make anybody’s all-league ballot.

But Crawford’s impact for the Hoyas is critical.

All three of Georgetown’s losses came when Crawford was out of the team’s rotation with strep throat. If you’re looking for the common thread separating Georgetown’s shaky 4-3 start from its current six-game streak of runaway victories, the strongest candidate is the 6-foot-3, 205-pound swingman from Stuarts Draft, Va.

In Georgetown’s first seven games, Crawford played once with the ailment (vs. Hartford), spent four games in the hospital rehydrating and sat on the bench for all but two minutes of two other games trying to regain his strength and legs after losing nearly 25 pounds. In those seven games, Georgetown shot a woeful 30.6 percent from 3-point range and fell out of the national rankings after losses to Old Dominion, Oregon and Duke.

In the six games since Crawford has returned to the rotation, Georgetown has shot 42.4 percent from 3-point range while pounding the opposition by an average of 28.7 points.

Now, certainly there’s some merit to the argument that Georgetown’s recent competition hasn’t been quite as strong as the early portion of the schedule, which featured not only the three solid teams who beat the Hoyas but also a road game at Vanderbilt. But the recent six-game stretch did include a convincing win over Oral Roberts, which bested Kansas in Lawrence this season, and blowout wins against Navy (69-41) and Michigan (67-51), teams who were a combined 21-5 heading into their meetings with the Hoyas.

The bottom line is that Georgetown has simply played with more passion and urgency since Crawford’s return — a fact that should come as little surprise given Crawford’s status as the team’s unquestioned spiritual leader.

“He’s the heart and soul of our team,” coach John Thompson III said. “[His absence hurt us] tremendously, and I said that from the start. People may have thought it was coach-speak, but not having his presence, forget what he does on the court, for that stretch took away a key component of our team.”

Thompson was questioned when he bemoaned Crawford’s absence during Georgetown’s rocky start. After all, Crawford scored just eight points all of last season. And Thompson’s claim that he was one of the team’s most capable 3-point shooters seemed like a stretch, particularly after Crawford’s 1-for-8 performance from behind the arc in the team’s opener against Hartford.

But Crawford was known as an electric scorer coming out of high school. He scored more than 2,000 points in his career, leading Robert E. Lee of Staunton to Virginia’s Group AA state title as a senior while averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds. Since his return to the rotation this season, Crawford is 9-for-19 (47.4 percent) from 3-point range. And while 1.5 3-pointers a game hardly qualifies Crawford as a great 3-point shooter, it does give opposing defenses one more must-cover player on the perimeter, decreasing the shooting onus on Wallace and opening up the middle of zone defenses for Hibbert and Green.

With the departure of Egerson, a similar player, Crawford’s role is almost certain to immediately expand. Not only is Crawford now the team’s first player off the bench, he’s also Georgetown’s best perimeter defender. Crawford’s play in that capacity could be a key today, as the Hoyas face 17th-ranked Notre Dame (13-1), which leads the Big East in 3-point shooting (41.2 percent).

Crawford is ready to embrace the challenge.

“It was hard to be out,” Crawford said. “Anybody likes having a target on them. But at the same time, our slow start probably humbled us a bit. I think we’re all excited to get going and get back on top.”

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