CHICAGO | Early Saturday morning, not a trace of the Georgetown basketball team remained at the United Center. The locker room sat empty under fluorescent lights. Even the security guards had left. Everything was gone, not so much as a scrap of tape on the floor, like the Hoyas had never been here.
Two hours earlier, the season loaded with such promise ended with an upset loss to Virginia Commonwealth in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
In the wreckage of a 74-56 loss - Georgetown’s worst NCAA defeat since 1996 - you could forget the 11-1 start to the season, the country’s toughest strength of schedule, the eight-game win streak in Big East play and the No. 9 ranking in the Associated Press poll last month.
The biggest question was the one nobody could answer: What happened to that team in the past month?
“I don’t know. I really don’t know what to tell you,” junior Jason Clark said. “You’ve got to come to play every night.”
Georgetown (21-11) dropped six of its last seven games. The last three losses came by a combined 57 points to VCU, Connecticut and Cincinnati.
Of course, the easy answer is the broken bone in senior point guard Chris Wright’s left hand. The injury happened Feb. 23 and sidelined him three games. It threw the Hoyas off kilter. Without Wright, Georgetown’s scoring fell by 20 points per game, assists were cut in half, defensive rebounding dropped and post play was, at best, erratic.
Wright may have been just a third-team All-Big East pick, but without his steadying presence on the court and lacking a dynamic backup, Georgetown was a different team.
“During the stretch when Chris was out we didn’t get the quality, the kind of shots we had been getting,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said.
But the loss to VCU - with Wright back in the lineup - was marked by the same offensive sluggishness and defensive lapses. To be fair, Wright had only four days of practice to scrape off the rust of three weeks on the sideline.
Still, the offense was built around jump-shooters Clark, Wright and senior Austin Freeman. Those three shot 0-for-16 from 3-point range against VCU. It was a precipitous drop for a team ranked just outside of the nation’s top-10 in field goal percentage.
“We’re not going to win too many games if all three of those guys have nights like that,” Thompson said. “That’s athletics. That’s part of the game. It happens.”
Freeman ended the season in a prolonged slump from beyond the arc that had little to do with Wright’s absence. In the last eight games, Wright hit only 13.7 percent of his 3-pointers (7-for-51). He insisted an ankle injury earlier in the season didn’t affect his play.
Same goes for senior forward Julian Vaughn. The team’s primary option in the post ended the season in a 2-for-21 funk from the field.
Freeman, Wright and Vaughn will graduate, part of a senior class that won only one NCAA tournament game. Thompson said he will evaluate the issue during the postseason.
“A lot will be written about what they have or haven’t done in the postseason,” Thompson said. “But as hard as it is … It’s hard. It’s hard. It’s hard.”
But the one tournament win can be misleading, depending on how you define a team’s success. In those four years, Georgetown went 88-43 during the regular season, 42-30 in the Big East and appeared in three NCAA tournaments.
“We did what we can try to do to help this program,” Freeman said. “We did the best we can. Plain and simple. That’s it.”
Freeman and Wright’s departure blows a gaping hole in Georgetown’s backcourt. But Jabril Trawick, a top-100 shooting guard, headlines the team’s recruiting class. Plenty of bulk in the post is on the way, too, in centers Mikael Hopkins and Tyler Adams and forward Greg Whittington.
All that seemed far away in the deserted locker room.
“Four years goes by fast,” Thompson said of his seniors. “They’ve given a lot and worked their behinds off. And that’s tough. … They’ve given a lot to this school.”