- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2021

When Jabari Walker’s fifth 3-pointer found nothing but net midway through the second half, the Colorado forward looked toward his bench and raised his hands in a shrug. The freshman, like most of his teammates, couldn’t help but keep shooting.

After all, the Buffaloes couldn’t seem to miss.

Georgetown’s defense left Colorado with too many open looks throughout Saturday’s NCAA tournament first round matchup. And the result was a heavily lopsided 96-73 defeat for the Hoyas to end a season in which coach Patrick Ewing’s squad showed flashes of what could be possible on the horizon — to go along with glaring reminders of the journey left ahead.

“Our book is still being written,” Ewing said. “… Our future’s bright. We still have a lot of work that we have to do, but I believe in my team, I believe in my university, and I think that we’ll be back next year.”

To get here, Georgetown embarked on a Big East tournament run to remember. The Hoyas played better basketball down the stretch of the season — winning six of their last 10 regular-season matchups after a four-game coronavirus-related pause — but still entered the conference tournament at 9-12.

Then came four straight wins, including a one-point victory against top-seeded Villanova. Georgetown’s defense improved throughout the tournament, too, holding Creighton to 48 points in the final. Guard Dante Harris, the freshman who moved into the starting lineup midway through the season, earned the tournament’s MVP award.

But the Buffaloes exposed the Hoyas’ perimeter defense, particularly with a small-ball lineup midway through the first half. Walker knocked down all five of his three-point attempts — part of the freshman’s team-high 24 points — while Georgetown missed five straight shots over a six-minute span.

“We didn’t bring our A-game,” Ewing said, “both offensively and defensively.”

And when the Hoyas reached the free-throw line, their problems compounded. They made just six of 13 attempts at the charity stripe in the first half, including two misses on the front end of one-and-ones. When Walker toppled center Timothy Ighoefe, earning a flagrant foul, Ighoefe missed both free throws. Then Georgetown turned the ball over on the ensuing inbounds pass.

Those sorts of mistakes were inexcusable in a game that got away from the Hoyas with haste. Colorado converted 11 first-half 3-pointers at a 65% clip, building a 24-point halftime advantage. Walker and D’Shawn Schwartz combined for eight of those treys.

With McKinley Wright doling out 13 assists to go with his 12 points, the Buffaloes continued that hot shooting night in the second half. They finished shooting 60.7% from the field, more than minimizing center Qudus Wahab’s 20-point, 12-rebounds performance for Georgetown.

“The one thing that surprised me was how well the opponent shot the ball,” Hoyas guard Donald Carey said. “Credit to them on shooting the ball well, but on our end, we just didn’t defend as we should’ve defended the three-point line.”

A 12-3 run from the Hoyas cut the deficit to 18 points midway through the second half, but Colorado soon burst out to a 32-point advantage through its transition offense. The Buffaloes finished with 16 made triples.

Ewing often speaks of steps his program must climb. Going from a bottom feeder in the Big East to conference tournament champions was a major leap. So was making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015.

But there are more steps to go, and that’s abundantly clear after the shellacking Colorado delivered Georgetown in the first NCAA tournament. And that’s not lost on Ewing.

“This experience today I think is going to help me in years to come, and is also going to help my team,” Ewing said. “I’d rather be here, in this tournament playing for the national championship, than be home watching it. … But right now, it’s a hard pill to swallow.”

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

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