- The Washington Times - Monday, February 27, 2012

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey strode into his post-game press conference Monday night at Verizon Center and immediately joked about getting the ensuing ordeal over with so he could get home.

It was two hours too late for that, for he’d watched No. 9 Georgetown smother and cover the No. 20 Fighting Irish from start to finish in a 59-41 rout.

“That may be the best defensive team we played against this season,” Brey marveled.

He would receive few arguments for the contrary as the Hoyas (22-6, 12-5 Big East) continued their defensive rebirth in the wake of a miserable setback less than a week ago.

That Georgetown team — the one that dropped an 18-point decision at Seton Hall — showed the hallmarks of the late-season fades that have so afflicted the program in recent years. It was the veterans who played their final home game Monday who so badly wanted to endure a similar fate who helped turn it around.

Jason Clark scored 13 points and helped fluster the Irish (20-10, 12-5) on the perimeter. Henry Sims (12 points, six rebounds, five assists) was the nexus of the offense, as he usually is when Georgetown plays near an optimal level.

It was the second straight game the Hoyas held an opponent to less than 50 points and the fourth time in five home contests.

“When we play defense like we have the last couple games, you have to be happy with that,” Sims said.

That goes for everyone, including coach John Thompson III, whose team will clinch a top four seed and double bye in next week’s Big East tournament with either a win at Marquette on Saturday or a loss by either Notre Dame or South Florida plus a Cincinnati loss.

Thompson was uninterested in such matters Monday, instead pleased with the Hoyas followed up a 67-46 deconstruction of Villanova with an efficient, fundamentally sound breakdown just a few days removed from seeing a nine-game winning streak end.

“If we defend and we rebound, we’ll score enough points to win,” Thompson said.

Such assurances seemed to settle in with the Hoyas over the last week as they re-asserted themselves. The reason for the turnaround seemed obvious enough.

“A tough loss — an embarrassing loss,” Clark said. “We knew we had to step up our defensive intensity.”

There was little doubt the Hoyas did so against the Irish, who were held to their lowest output since a 61-41 loss to Washington State in the 2008 NCAA tournament. Even as the game slogged along — there were more than four scoreless minutes when the teams were tied at 11 in the first half — Georgetown’s defense was stifling.

Eventually, the Hoyas built a 28-18 lead at the break, an edge that looked insurmountable based on both Georgetown’s effective play and the undermanned Irish’s preferred methodical pace.

That perception was reality; Notre Dame never closed within two possessions the rest of the way. When Georgetown wasn’t harassing them, the Irish were missing open shots with regularity and not doing much else to help themselves.

“The karma wasn’t good tonight, and a lot of that was Georgetown’s doing,” Brey said. “They got the 50/50 balls [and] putbacks. We couldn’t defensive rebound.”

Georgetown could do that, and a whole lot more. Eventually, it ended for Brey and the Irish, and the return trip to South Bend couldn’t come soon enough.

The Hoyas crafted yet another response to last week’s low moment, provided an all-around effort to silence another strong team and offered yet more reason to think this bunch won’t bow out quietly in March like their recent predecessors.

“This is definitely how we can play defense,” Clark said. “This is what I’m striving for. We had some games in the past when we played defense like this. I think if we play defense like this every single game, we’ll be a very good team.”

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