- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Roy Hibbert didn’t get involved soon enough in Georgetown’s NCAA tournament East Region semifinal last night against Vanderbilt, and his night ended all too early.

No matter. In between a lack of early opportunities and late foul trouble, Hibbert sparked the second-seeded Hoyas with 12 points and 10 rebounds in a 66-65 defeat of the No. 6 Commodores at Continental Airlines Arena.

Georgetown (29-6), which reached its first regional final since 1996, got there in large measure by finally funneling it inside to Hibbert after the break. The junior scored nine points early in the second half to fuel the Hoyas’ rally from an eight-point halftime deficit.

“In the second half, I said, ‘I have to pick it up on my end,’ ” Hibbert said. “There’s a lot I can do, and I wasn’t doing it in the first half. Coach didn’t even tell me, so I took it upon myself to be as dominant as I could. I think that got us started.”

He wasn’t there to finish things, fouling out with 3:58 remaining while trying to block Derrick Byars’ 3-pointer. But his quiet first half was far more unnerving — and correctable — than his banishment to the bench. Hibbert thrived in the teams’ first meeting in November, scoring 18 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to stifle the smallish Commodores (22-12). There was no reason to expect anything different the second time around.

Instead, Georgetown managed to take Hibbert out of the game on its own for 20 minutes.

The patience that produced one of the nation’s most efficient offenses throughout the season was not present for the Hoyas throughout the first half. Georgetown quickly looked for shots from the perimeter, ignoring the system that earned it a spot in the tournament’s second weekend.

It rendered Hibbert virtually invisible, a nearly Houdini-esque achievement given the his 7-foot-2 frame. He took only one shot in the first half, a routine layup, and had only three points as the Hoyas stumbled into the break down 32-24.

From there, the Hoyas finally committed to working it inside. Hibbert scored twice in just more than a minute to open the half. Later, he followed Jonathan Wallace’s missed 3-pointer with a dunk to give Georgetown a 41-38 lead.

“With Roy being almost a nonfactor in the first half, we knew we needed Roy to step up in big games for us to be able to win,” forward Patrick Ewing Jr. said. “He definitely did that in the second half.”

Hibbert’s scoring was finished as the Hoyas again relied on mid- to long-range jumpers for the bulk of their points the rest of the way. When Hibbert did go in for a basket with 5:43 left, he was whistled for an offensive foul — his fourth personal.

Less than two minutes later, he — but not his teammates — was done when he went to the bench for good with his fifth foul with 3:58 left. It seemed the perfect break for the Commodores, especially after Byars made two free throws to bump their lead to 60-57, but Vanderbilt didn’t make a field goal the rest of the way.

“Once we got him fouled out, I felt the advantage definitely went to us,” Vanderbilt forward Ross Neltner said. “Their guards, they definitely clamped down on dribble penetration because they knew his shot blocking presence wasn’t there.”

It was just another learning experience for Hibbert.

This time, he will have a chance to apply his latest lesson as the Hoyas seek their first Final Four appearance since 1985.

“I should have been smarter,” Hibbert said. “Coaches told me if I had switched up earlier, he wouldn’t have taken that shot, and he probably would have driven to the basket where I had help. I just have to keep learning. I try to be a sponge and soak up all the knowledge I can to be a student of the game because I can always learn new stuff.”

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