- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2009

CINCINNATI | Georgetown arrived at Cincinnati desperately seeking a slump-snapping victory. What the Hoyas found waiting for them at Fifth Third Arena on Wednesday was perhaps the cruelest twist of what’s starting to look like an ill-fated season.

The 25th-ranked Hoyas lost leading scorer DaJuan Summers to a sprained ankle late in the first half and then stumbled to a fourth consecutive defeat for the first time since John Thompson III’s debut season on the Hilltop in 2004-05.

Led by junior slasher Deonta Vaughn (20 points), the deeper Bearcats simply had more options and answers on both ends, dispatching the reeling Hoyas 65-57 by closing the game on an 11-2 run.

Now in complete free fall, the Hoyas (12-7, 3-5 Big East) complete their three-game road trip Saturday against arguably the hottest team in the league, No. 8 Marquette (17-2, 6-0 Big East), at Bradley Center.

“We will figure this out,” said Thompson, who put his head down on the postgame interview table in momentary anguish before slapping the table with both palms and rising to his feet. “We’re in a bad place, but we will figure this out. That’s what we do.”

Unlike in their previous two games, a 17-point home loss to West Virginia and a 65-60 setback at previously league-winless Seton Hall, the Hoyas didn’t supply the shovel for Wednesday night’s burial.

As promised after Sunday’s admittedly lazy offensive performance against the Pirates, the Hoyas worked ardently for good shots against the Bearcats, often exploring Cincinnati’s defense with the shot clock running out. The Hoyas committed just 12 turnovers against Cincinnati’s fullcourt press. Even without Summers on the floor for the entire second half, they collected more offensive rebounds than the Bearcats and held their own against one of the league’s best rebounding teams.

The Hoyas shot 40 percent from the field despite adding another chapter to their ongoing drought from behind the 3-point arc by going 5-for-17. And after two subpar performances, sophomore point guard Chris Wright returned to his customary form, slashing his way to a team-high 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting.

But without Summers, the Hoyas simply lacked the offensive firepower to offset a 45.8 percent shooting night from the Bearcats, who entered the game as one of the Big East’s weaker shooting teams.

As if the Hoyas weren’t in a tough enough spot after three consecutive losses, the sight of Summers limping to the bench late in the first half deflated a team already functioning with little or no confidence. The 6-foot-8 forward entered the game averaging more than 16 points and led the Hoyas with seven first-half points before landing awkwardly on his left ankle with 4:22 remaining before intermission.

“Coming out of halftime, he said he couldn’t run, couldn’t move, couldn’t play,” said Thompson, who was forced to replace his top scorer with Nikita Mescheriakov and Omar Wattad. “Obviously, not having DaJuan out there had some effect on the outcome.”

Summers’ absence placed even more scoring onus on budding freshman star Greg Monroe. And uncharacteristically for the mature Monroe, he did not respond well to the challenge.

The versatile big man from New Orleans was the primary culprit in Georgetown’s late struggles. After taking a 55-54 lead on a 3-pointer by freshman guard Jason Clark with 4:38 remaining, the Hoyas went to Monroe (10 points, eight rebounds) time and again down the stretch. And Monroe’s multiple touches in the game’s waning minutes yielded no points, two turnovers and a pair of point-blank misses.

“I think Greg had a freshman game; he hasn’t had too many freshman games,” Thompson said. “The timing’s unfortunate. DaJuan gets hurt and can’t go. That’s unfortunate. Now we’ve got to roll [up] our sleeves up and fight. It’s as simple as that.”

With 10 league games remaining, Georgetown still has time to stabilize its spiraling season and secure a fourth consecutive NCAA tournament bid. That appeared to be a modest goal after the Hoyas knocked off then No. 8 Syracuse just two weeks ago to jump to 12-3 on the season and assume the nation’s No. 12 slot.

But that seems like a long time ago.

Said Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin of the Hoyas: “Sometimes when it rains, it pours.”

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