- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the searing pain of their final moments together, right down to the miserable trudge out of the locker room every basketball team without a net-cutting ceremony to cap its season inevitably takes, it wasn’t hard for Georgetown to look back.

To the bonding of its offseason trip to China that proved more eventful than anyone might have guessed thanks to a brawl.

To the preseason prognostications pegging the Hoyas to finish a meager 10th in the 16-team Big East.

To how, in a manner acutely felt across the roster, Georgetown lived up to its tradition even if it bowed out of the NCAA tournament earlier than it hoped.

“The only people who believed in us this whole season were the guys in this room,” senior guard Jason Clark said. “We weren’t picked to do anything this year. People doubted us, but I think we worked hard for the success that we got.”

That is an understatement.

It was easy enough to frame the 66-63 loss to N.C. State on Sunday as the latest postseason calamity for the Hoyas (24-9). And on the surface, a fourth consecutive NCAA appearance ending with a loss to double-digit seed (Georgetown was a No. 3 seed, N.C. State a No. 11) fits the narrative.

But look back at those seasons and measure the initial expectations, however flawed they were. The 2008 team was ranked fifth in the preseason, remained in the top 10 much of the winter and were downed in the round of 32. The 2010 and 2011 outfits began their seasons at No. 20 and remained mainstays in the national polls.

Even the 2009 bunch that stumbled to an NIT appearance was ranked until the end of January.

These guys? Nary a vote in either major preseason poll.

“For 10 underclassmen, I think we did a great job, but it’s still not enough,” sophomore guard Markel Starks said.

Perhaps not right now. Yet unlike their immediate predecessors, there was no sign of severe slippage in late January and February. Instead, the Hoyas simply plugged along, winning two and losing one with remarkable steadiness over the final five weeks of the regular season.

Much of the credit could be placed on Clark and Henry Sims, the veterans who ultimately defined their careers not based on the program’s past disappointments but instead with virtuoso senior seasons.

Clark was long the overlooked backcourt component, but still a proven entity. He wrapped up his career with 1,363 points, 20th in school history and just shy of former teammate Chris Wright’s 1,369.

Sims, meanwhile, was a revelation as the nexus of the Hoyas’ offense after three years as a rotational reserve, and his absence was acutely felt when he encountered foul trouble Sunday.

Together, they helped shepherd Georgetown through a season featuring only one losing streak (Jan. 7-9 against West Virginia and Cincinnati) and the program’s best scoring defense (59.4 points per game) in four years.

“We haven’t always had success, but it’s a group that all year fought for each other and cared about each other, and I’m proud to be associated with these guys,” coach John Thompson III said.

There was little incentive to look ahead, but the Hoyas couldn’t be blamed if they quickly embrace the future. Three starters return. Three freshmen, including the impressive Otto Porter, averaged at least 10 minutes.

And those expectations, absent at the start of this season, so often assigned to Georgetown. They’ll be back in October. Oh, they’ll be back. With only one senior on next year’s roster, they’ll be around for some time to come, too.

“I’ve never been a part of something where the younger guys are semi-leaders,” Starks said. “I think for the guys returning, we won’t forget this feeling, because I didn’t forget this feeling from last year. Sure, we would have liked to have moved on, but it is what it is.”

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