- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cincinnati gashed Georgetown’s NCAA tournament hopes Saturday at Verizon Center, completing a season sweep of the imploding Hoyas with a 64-62 overtime victory.

“Comparing and contrasting losses… they all hurt,” coach John Thompson III said after his Hoyas blew a double-digit second-half lead to stagger to their sixth defeat in seven games. “This one hurts more because it just happened.”

Perhaps this one hurt more because it came at such a critical junction in the season and involved vanishing acts by both of the squad’s upperclassmen.

Entering the game with the Bearcats (16-8, 6-5 Big East), Georgetown’s path to the tournament was fairly obvious: Take care of the four middling to poor teams remaining on the docket (Cincinnati, South Florida, St. John’s and DePaul) and swipe one of the other four games against marquee opponents (at Syracuse, Marquette, Louisville, at Villanova). If the Hoyas did that and still fell short, the committee would have turned away a team with a top-three strength-of-schedule ranking, three wins against ranked teams and a .500 record in arguably the best conference in America.

Apparently the Hoyas (13-9, 4-7) didn’t get the message. The starters slept through the first four-plus minutes, prompting Thompson to pull all five with 15:24 remaining in the half and the Hoyas trailing 8-2. Given that Thompson is strapped with one of the weakest benches in the Big East, it was a risky message.

But the move seemed to pay off when four of his starters (less senior guard Jessie Sapp) returned to the lineup a few minutes later and pushed the team to a 26-21 lead at intermission.

Redshirt freshman Nikita Mescheriakov replaced Sapp in the lineup to start the second half, but that didn’t seem particularly worrisome after Georgetown sophomore Chris Wright (nine points, four assists) staked the Hoyas to a 33-21 lead on a slashing layup with 17:46 remaining.

But Sapp’s absence eventually manifested itself in defensive lapses. Cincinnati routinely abused Georgetown’s habit of hedging center Greg Monroe (13 points, six rebounds, five steals) on high-ball screens and buried six of its first eight 3-pointers of the second half. Alvin Mitchell hit the final 3 to knot the score at 59-59 with 1:04 remaining and eventually force overtime.

Of Sapp’s benching, Thompson would only say that his lone senior was neither sick nor injured but had been benched because of a “coach’s decision.”

But Sapp wasn’t the day’s only goat. Junior forward DaJuan Summers, who missed the bulk of the first game against the Bearcats with a sprained ankle, played 34 minutes and had just his third single-digit scoring performance of the season. Summers also kicked a perfect backdoor pass out of bounds with 1:21 remaining in regulation and the Hoyas leading 59-56. It was the last of many uncharacteristic bobbles for the junior but perhaps the most costly for a team that can’t seem to close games.

“I had never seen that before,” Thompson said of Summers’ misplays, which far outnumbered his three official turnovers. “He had a hard day in that regard.”

Overtime belonged to the Bearcats. Georgetown continued its death spiral by missing all eight of its field goal attempts and three of its six free throws. Cincinnati was mildly less anemic, pulling free behind junior playmaker Deonta Vaughn (16 points, nine rebounds, six assists) and snuffing out a lunging, last-second shot by Georgetown’s Austin Freeman (10 points) to preserve the victory.

The Hoyas have a full week to seethe over the defeat before meeting Syracuse on Valentine’s Day at Carrier Dome.

“Our togetherness is not there,” Monroe said. “There’s no friction. We just have to find a way back to how we were earlier in the season.”

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