- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NEW YORK | As the final seconds drained away, Jason Clark’s head hung low as he bit his jersey near center court at Madison Square Garden. On the bench, Julian Vaughn stared straight ahead, a white towel draped over his lap. And John Thompson III, the Georgetown basketball coach, thrust his hands deep into his pockets and didn’t move.

This didn’t look like a team ranked No. 9 in the country three weeks ago and bound for the NCAA Tournament.

Georgetown’s late-season struggles continued Wednesday afternoon with a 79-62 loss to UConn in the second round of the Big East Tournament.

“We have to try and put it behind us,” Vaughn whispered, looking at the floor in a locker room that felt like a funeral. “It’s a new tournament. We need to figure some things out.”

The list of things to figure out grows longer with each game, as the Hoyas dropped their fifth contest in six tries.

Yes, Georgetown (21-10) played without point guard Chris Wright for the third straight game because of a broken bone in his left hand. He’s expected to return next week for the NCAA Tournament. But the Georgetown’s problems — from turnovers to foul trouble to ineffectiveness in the post — seemed bigger than one player’s absence.

“We miss Chris, absolutely, 100 percent on both ends of the court and in every way,” Thompson said. “That being said, the group that’s playing right now, that played today, has to be better. Better than we’ve been showing.”

Better than 10 turnovers in the first half, including a series of careless passes that fueled UConn’s 22-7 run. The Huskies build a 15-point lead they never relinquished. On one play, UConn’s Kemba Walker simply grabbed the ball from Clark and jetted in for a layup and foul.

Georgetown switched between Clark, Markel Sparks and a zone defense in attempts to slow Walker. That didn’t bother the speedy guard, who managed 28 points and got to the basket with ease. Seven of his 10 field goals came on layups in addition to eight made free throws.

“He understood where his teammates were and made some sensational plays regardless of who, what and how they were playing him,” UConn coach Jim Calhoun said.

Like Cincinnati did Saturday, UConn (23-9) dictated the game’s tempo — and Georgetown’s offense. Calhoun wanted to force Austin Freeman or Clark to shoulder the offensive load. They combined for 43 points on 14-for-33 shooting. But Freeman hit just one field goal in the second half. And Georgetown’s offense never found a rhythm.

That was particularly apparent in the post. Vaughn didn’t score and played only 12 minutes, Thompson said, because of ineffectiveness. Vaughn and fellow big man Nate Lubick combined for nine fouls, too, and backup center Henry Sims came off the bench to turn the ball over three times in seven minutes.

Perhaps Walker delivered the biggest indictment of the post play. Listed at 6-foot-1, but standing close to 5-10, the point guard pulled down three offensive rebounds in the paint during the first half. After missing a 3-pointer, Walker raced through the defense to follow his shot, snagged the rebound and put it in. That was ordinary Wednesday.

Georgetown never got closer than 10 points in the second half. Players believed they’d make a run. It never happened. What they need now are answers. Quickly.

Suitcases were piled in the cramped locker room after the game, along with ice packs, blank looks and silence.

“I don’t think it’s anything on anybody individually,” Lubick said, breaking through the quiet. “I don’t think it’s about replacing what Chris Wright does offensively or defensively. I think it’s just as a team we need to come together to figure out how we’re going to get stops and how we’re going to get scores.”

• Nathan Fenno can be reached at nfenno@washingtontimes.com.

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