- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2018

NEW YORK — When Georgetown lost to Xavier on Feb. 21, Hoyas coach Patrick Ewing said his team had come a long way, but added, “I’ll reflect back on the year when everything’s all over.”

The Hoyas finished the regular season on a four-game slide, then fell to St. John’s in the first round of the Big East Tournament, 88-77, Wednesday at Madison Square Garden. The loss effectively ended Georgetown’s season, unless it receives a surprise invitation to the National Invitational Tournament or appears in a third-tier postseason event.

Asked if this season was a good “starting point” for the program, Ewing was still not ready to say.

“You know, right now it’s hard to reflect on it,” said the first-year head coach and former Hoyas and New York Knicks star. “I just have a bitter taste in my mouth right now. So I’m going to take a couple days and reflect.”

With the season all but over, did the coach have a special message for his team in the locker room?

“We talked,” Ewing said. “I’ll just leave it like that.”

Georgetown finished the year 15-15, 5-13 in Big East regular season action. There’s evidence that the foundation has been laid for an improvement in year two of Ewing’s tenure, but the conference has returned to basketball prominence — meaning it’s going to be a challenge for the Hoyas to keep up.

Ewing replaced John Thompson III after the Hoyas missed the NCAA Tournament in three of Thompson’s last four seasons. The Hoyas went 10-1 out of conference, their lone blemish an overtime loss to Syracuse, but their early schedule was criticized as soft. Georgetown’s non-conference strength of schedule ranked dead last of 351 Division I teams.

Their only wins against conference foes, besides bottom-feeders St. John’s and DePaul, came in consecutive games in February. The Hoyas beat Seton Hall on a last-second Derrickson 3-pointer after squandering a 17-point lead, then beat Butler on the road by four.

Through Wednesday, Georgetown’s scoring defense ranked 281st in the country, but its offense (78.3 points per game) was 65th. Other silver linings that could carry over into 2018-19: They averaged 17.4 assists per game (11th in the nation) and, crucially, made their free throws (77.5 percent, 13th in the nation).

Point guard Jonathan Mulmore is the only starter set to graduate, and the Hoyas will return more than 87 percent of this year’s scoring offense. They’re set to add a recruiting class that includes point guard Mac McClung, who this year broke Allen Iverson’s single-season scoring record in the Virginia High School League.

Govan and Derrickson will be seniors, and a second year under Ewing stands to benefit everyone in the locker room.

Ewing’s coaching style utilizes tough love. He’s unafraid to tell the press when he feels players, even the majority of his team, didn’t “bring their A-game.” Ewing said Govan played well Wednesday but “not well enough” — while Govan sat next to him — even after he posted 28 points and 11 rebounds, both game highs.

Ewing says the sky is the limit for his star center, but he’s not going to overlook areas for improvement, both technical and intangible.

“He has to continue to run the floor on both ends. He still has to rebound. He has to become a better shot blocker,” Ewing said. “When he comes back next year for his senior season, he has to be my leader. He has to start leading. And as a leader, you can lead in a lot of different ways, and he’s going to have to choose which way that he wants to lead.”

Govan offered a glimpse of what that leadership style might be with an encouraging postgame comment.

“It’s going to be a big offseason for all of us trying to come back and really take the Big East by storm,” Govan said.

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