- - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Apologies to those folks in Springfield, Mass., Indiana and Tobacco Row, but Jason Clark believes the cradle of basketball is found at the corner of 8th Avenue and 31st Street in New York City.

“I love playing in Madison Square Garden,” Georgetown’s senior guard said. “It’s my favorite place to play. It’s the atmosphere of being in such a historic building, and a lot of great players have gone through and done great things. I love playing in that building.”

Clark and the rest of the Hoyas will get their opportunity to shine under the bright lights at MSG beginning at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the Big East tournament when Georgetown (22-7) faces No. 13 seed Pittsburgh (17-15) in the second round.

“We owe them one,” said Clark, referring to the Hoyas’ 72-60 loss to the Panthers on Jan. 28.

The Hoyas had a golden opportunity to finish in second place and earn a double bye for the tournament, but last Saturday’s loss to Marquette, combined with a tiebreaker disadvantage with Cincinnati, dropped them to the fifth seed and gave them a much tougher road to the title.

“It was a big disappointment,” Clark said of the loss to the Golden Eagles. “That’s a big jump from two to five. But we’re not thinking about that anymore. We know we have to win games Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and I think this team is prepared to do that.”

If Georgetown does pull off a deep tournament run, it will take quite a bit to traverse a schedule with the Panthers, Bearcats and Syracuse looming — all teams the Hoyas lost to this season.

“You have to quickly turn it around,” coach John Thompson III said. “Mentally as well as physically, you have to be tough.”

And while Georgetown’s players were upset to not receive the double bye or the No. 2 seed, Thompson was less concerned about the bracket breakdown.

“You start saying who’s nine, who’s 13, who’s four, who’s one - those things don’t matter,” the coach said. “Syracuse has shown that they are No. 1, but after that, the number next to your team doesn’t really matter because on any given night we can all beat each other.”

One of the coach’s biggest challenges is how to game plan within a constricted amount of time. The Hoyas spent the early part of this week preparing for Pitt and St. John’s and will adjust on the fly if they continue to advance.

“You don’t really know who you are going to play, so you can’t focus on other teams that much,” forward Hollis Thompson said. “You have to focus on yourself and what you need to do to get better. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”

Of immediate concern are two issues that flared against Marquette but have been lingering with the Hoyas all season - free throw shooting and press offense.

The Hoyas shot a season-low 56 percent from the line against Marquette and rank 14th in that statistic during conference play. In what figure to be tight, low-scoring affairs, Georgetown must find a way to solve its free throw woes.

“All of us, from myself on down, realize that we have not been good at that, and that it’s important,” John Thompson said. “You just get them at the line and you work on it.”

Given the way the Hoyas bumbled against Marquette’s press - Georgetown’s bigger lineup had trouble moving the ball out of the backcourt - Thompson knows that his team has given opponents a window on how to frustrate them offensively.

“Do I anticipate us getting pressed because of our showing the other day? Absolutely,” he said.

In the grand scheme of things, perhaps this week’s tournament isn’t of paramount importance for the Hoyas - most NCAA tournament projections have the Hoyas safely in as a No. 3 seed - but for the players, especially the seniors, this trip to New York means everything.

“It’s so important,” Clark said. “I’m going up there with the mindset that this is my last go-round, and I don’t want to lose. Henry [Sims] and I are telling the guys that we don’t want to go out with a loss. Our team being the family we are, everybody understands that.”

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