Sunday, January 11, 2009

If Georgetown goes on to enjoy a successful Big East campaign, the Hoyas can circle Saturday’s 82-75 victory against Providence as their seminal moment of maturation.

With 16:15 remaining against the Friars (11-5, 3-1), the No. 9 Hoyas were trailing 44-40, staring squarely at a three-game losing streak and a 1-3 start in league play. Georgetown (11-3, 2-2) was struggling mightily on both ends of the floor, sputtering on offense against Providence’s matchup zone and flagging on defense.

When leading scorer DaJuan Summers reported to the bench with four fouls and 15:34 remaining, joining slumping senior guard Jessie Sapp, Georgetown’s prospects for reversing its slide looked grim.

But the strangest thing happened on the way to 1-3. When freshman guard Jason Clark and freshman forward Henry Sims replaced Sapp and Summers, Georgetown didn’t just hold its own with five underclassmen on the floor, the Hoyas erupted. Growing up right in front of the 12,764 assembled at Verizon Center, the youngsters parlayed suffocating defense and the versatility of 6-foot-11, 250-pound freshman Greg Monroe into a 21-2 run to reclaim control of both the game and their season.

“I hope we grew up,” said Georgetown coach John Thompson III, whose team hosts No. 11 Syracuse on Wednesday. “That group of freshmen and sophomores was on the floor during the key stretch when we tightened up [on defense] and pulled away. I stood here about a month ago and talked about the disparity between our first and second groups. That gap has become much smaller, and those guys in the second group are becoming much more comfortable and confident.

“I thought both Henry and Jason were terrific today. They didn’t just help - we got a big boost today with them in there.”

With Monroe cutting apart the Providence zone, the Hoyas surged to a 61-46 lead. Monroe came within two assists of posting a triple-double against the Friars, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and five steals.

“My teammates were making hard cuts to the basket, and it seemed like [Providence’s] defense was just kind of standing around,” Monroe said.

Said Thompson: “I felt like he had about 15 assists. He would have, if we hadn’t missed so many layups.”

But if the offense was efficient during the explosion, the defense was even more impressive. The insertion of Sims (6-10, 225 pounds) and Clark helped confound the Friars, who leaned heavily on the 3-point shooting of Marshon Brooks (18 points), Weyinmi Efejuku (13 points) and Jeff Xavier (10 points).

“I still don’t know what happened,” Brooks said. “I’m shocked. We hit a brick wall.”

Providence made the closing minutes interesting, but it couldn’t overcome Georgetown’s uncharacteristic dominance on the boards (41-29) and the Hoyas’ torrid second-half shooting performance (59.3 percent).

The Hoyas still have a thin and inexperienced bench relative to the rest of the Big East, but it’s now officially a work in progress.

“I think we all kind of grew up today,” said Georgetown sophomore point guard Chris Wright (16 points). “Coach gave us young guys the opportunity to turn it around today and stayed with us. And we responded.

“Henry and Jason were big today, and I think we took a took a big step forward as a team.”

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