- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2012

NEWARK, N.J. — The ushers in black blazers emblazoned with “Prudential Center Security” gathered in twos and threes as the final seconds drifted away inside the arena. They clutched walkie-talkies and shot wary glances at Seton Hall’s student section bouncing to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” and an impending upset.

As the final horn sounded on Seton Hall’s 73-55 surprise of No. 9 Georgetown on Tuesday night, the black-blazered men showed how to play defense.

One student leaked through the men’s shoves and shouts. A half-dozen steps onto the court, the young man was slide-tackled into five hefty red-backed folding chairs and a collection of empty plastic beer cups in row AA. Another usher, face bloodied, stood over the young man and jabbed toward his face.

The ushers grinned and brushed off their blazers. Georgetown’s defense, a pillar of the team’s unexpected season, didn’t show similar effectiveness against Seton Hall.

“We were atrocious today,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said after his team’s worst loss since the 18-point defeat to Virginia Commonwealth University in the second round of last season’s NCAA tournament.

Georgetown entered Tuesday’s game ranked No. 14 in the country in scoring defense and had held opponents to 60 or fewer points in 14 games this season. But against Seton Hall point guard Jordan Theodore, the 6-foot senior with a shaved head and sleeves covering both arms, Georgetown’s defense turned disjointed, mistake-prone and ineffective.

Georgetown players cited miscommunication, an explanation that first surfaced after the group’s inability to guard Syracuse swingman Kris Joseph earlier this month during an overtime loss in the Carrier Dome. Like Joseph, Theodore was continually left open, no matter if Georgetown played zone or man-to-man.

Thompson saw defensive frustrations, as Theodore gouged Georgetown for 29 points, turn into rushed, off-balance shots on offense. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard called Theodore’s performance, where he went 8-for-11 from the field and hit all five of his 3-pointers, the most complete game by a Big East point guard this season.

“He totally controlled everything, and tonight we just didn’t have any answers for him,” Thompson said. “They hit a couple shots early and our frustrations set in and carried over. That’s something we haven’t done, nor haven’t shown, but we will fix that.”

On the NCAA tournament’s bubble, Seton Hall was 0-3 against top-25 teams this season. Georgetown hadn’t lost by more than 12 points. Theodore changed all that, turning a five-point advantage early in the second half into a double-digit runaway. That left Seton Hall’s students in a tizzy, including three young men who watched the second half a few feet from the court wearing nothing but red, white and blue Speedos.

After Theodore’s 3-pointer pushed the lead to 45-33 with 15:48 remaining, the point guard held his right hand in the air for three or four seconds.

“I just thought he was holding his follow through,” Willard said, not betraying a smile. “It was good form. That’s what we teach.”

Laughter followed.

Willard provided a blueprint for how to befuddle Georgetown (20-6, 10-5 Big East). Seton Hall worked to run 25 or so seconds off the shot clock each possession, tried to make Georgetown work on defense, focused on patience.

That turned into 61 percent field-goal shooting for Seton Hall (19-9, 8-8), which ranked 192nd in the nation in the category. That’s the best any team has shot against Georgetown in Thompson’s eight-year tenure. And the coach was left reciting a lengthy list of problems: Georgetown didn’t have rhythm, it thought too much on the court, it didn’t find ways to make Seton Hall’s shots more difficult and, of course, the unbridled frustration when Theodore’s shots kept falling.

“He sees everything,” Georgetown senior Jason Clark said. “They got open shots, and they knocked them down. Even the ones that were contested, they knocked them down.”

Hands clasped behind his back, Clark stared at a red exit sign. Next to him, fellow senior Henry Sims gazed at the statistics sheet Thompson fingered on the podium.

The single sheet of paper revealed no Georgetown player scored in double digits — freshman Greg Whittington led the team with nine points — one more thing the coach and his players couldn’t seem to believe.

The game was over, the black-blazered ushers departed, the row of chairs put back in place. But Sims talked like Seton Hall’s shots were still falling.

“They were hitting open shots and they were hitting tough shots,” Sims said. “It’s unfortunate that spilled over to the offense. We were trying to answer back.”

The lesson?

“Play defense,” Sims said.

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