- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

NEW YORK — School was in session last night at Madison Square Garden. Perhaps Georgetown learned a lesson.

The top-seeded Hoyas cruised into their Big East title matchup with Pittsburgh off a pair of feel-good, double-digit throttlings that had them clowning through a pregame session that looked more like a dunk contest than a championship warmup.

For the first time all season, the national media was trumpeting the Hoyas instead of doubting them. For a Georgetown team that had carried a chip on its shoulder all season over such skepticism, it must have been an odd feeling. Legendary coach turned ESPN analyst Bobby Knight was even suggesting that Georgetown was worthy of a No. 1 seed.

And the Panthers?

Well, they were only there to provide a foil for the suddenly ordained beast of the Big East, nevermind the fact that last night’s game marked the seventh appearance for Pittsburgh in the last eight Big East tournament finals. Nobody in New York was giving the Panthers a chance … including apparently Georgetown.

As their warmup session might suggest, the Hoyas came out flat, loose and unfocused, and the more focused Panthers pounded them far worse than the 74-65 score indicates.

The difference in the game was obvious from the opening tip: intensity, intensity, intensity. Pitt (26-9) had it, likely because of their 1-5 record in the previous six title visits (including last year’s humbling 65-42 loss to the Hoyas). Georgetown (27-5) did not.

Led by tournament MVP and Clinton native Sam Young (16 points) and bullish freshman forward DeJuan Blair (10 points, 10 rebounds), the Panthers mauled the Hoyas in the paint, collecting 19 offensive rebounds en route a 41-29 edge on the boards.

“That team just really wanted it,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said after a rare time when the Hoyas were outhustled. “That doesn’t happen too often. It was just one of those days. … The second part of the season is over, and now it’s time for the third part [NCAA tournament]. You don’t want to ruin the third part of the year because you’re feeling sorry for yourself.”

If Wisconsin wins the Big Ten tournament today, last night’s performance could conceivably cost the Hoyas a No. 2 seed in the big bracket, bumping them to the three-line behind North Carolina, UCLA, Memphis, Kansas, Texas, Tennessee, Duke and the Badgers.

Either way, the loss provides a sobering dose of reality for a team that entered the game attempting to become just the second team in Big East history to complete back-to-back sweeps of the regular-season and tournament titles (Connecticut in 1998-99).

“No matter what, we just have to bounce back,” said senior center Roy Hibbert, who led the team with 17 points but was routinely beaten on the boards by the 6-foot-7 Blair. “We just have to move on to the next segment of the year.”

Though the game wouldn’t have been remotely as close if the Panthers had made more than just 22 of their 44 free throws, two sequences stand out as game-defining.

Twice within a two-minute stretch at the midpoint of the second half when the Hoyas were attempting to claw back from a five-point deficit, Pittsburgh missed a free throw but Blair outworked the taller Hoyas for the rebound and a either a putback or a return trip to the line.

“They really hurt us on the boards,” said Thompson, whose team never led after halftime and never really threatened the Panthers down the stretch. “You can’t let a team get 19 offensive rebounds. This time of year, you’ve got to stay focused and be harder than that. It hurts right now, but we’re going to do whatever we can to try and turn this game into a learning experience.”

Hoyas report

Last night at Madison Square Garden in New York

SEEN AND HEARD

ESPN’s Bobby Knight has stumped hard for the Hoyas over the last several days. The legendary coach said Georgetown has played the most impressive basketball in the nation. Regardless of the outcome of last night’s game, it was difficult to defend Knight’s assertion that the Hoyas deserved a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Before last night’s game started, the Hoyas were in emotional trouble. While Pittsburgh was serious during warmups, most of the Hoyas players yukked it up, laughing with one another while executing difficult dunks. The lone exceptions were senior stalwarts Roy Hibbert and Jonathan Wallace. That lack of focus played itself out in the game.

BY THE NUMBERS

20-11 — First-half rebounding edge for Pittsburgh, which led 31-28 lead at halftime largely on the strength of 11 offensive rebounds and a slew of second-chance points.

Barker Davis

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