Hoyas Down and Out

Ohio State Ends Ge­orge­town’s Run In the Fi­nal Four

The Washington Post Sunday - - Front Page - By Mike Wise

AT­LANTA, March 31 — The show­down of 7-foot­ers dis­solved into a game of mu­si­cal chairs. Ohio State’s Greg Oden would rise, Ge­orge­town’s Roy Hib­bert would sit, and the for­tunes of their teams would swing like a pen­du­lum, un­til one big man and his team were left stand­ing, arms raised, on the hard­wood floor.

More foul-prone than fe­ro­cious and wait­ing in vain for its star player, Jeff Green, to emerge, Ge­orge­town could not deny the Buck­eyes and Oden on Satur­day night, los­ing 67-60. Nei­ther grace nor grit — the qual­i­ties that ig­nited the Hoyas’ pul­sat­ing run through March — were enough be­fore 53,510 at the Ge­or­gia Dome, where the re­birth of a sto­ried men’s bas­ket­ball pro­gram was halted in the Fi­nal Four of the NCAA tour­na­ment.

The loss stopped the Hoyas’ dream of play­ing in their first cham­pi­onship game since John Thompson Jr. lorded over a pro­gram led by se­nior cen­ter Pa­trick Ewing in 1985. Twenty-two years later, his son, John Thompson III, coached the team and Pa­trick Ewing Jr. played ex­ten­sively. Yet the pa­ter­nal ties that be­came part of Ge­orge­town’s grow­ing lore na­tion­ally could not con­tain Oden, a fresh­man who scored all 13 of his points in the sec­ond half, or kick-start the Hoyas’ of­fense.

Green took a pal­try five shots, fin­ish­ing with nine points and 12 re­bounds while play­ing all 40 min­utes. The Big East Con­fer­ence player of the year mir­rored his team; nei­ther de­vel-

oped any rhythm.

“We put the ball in his hands and he de­cided not to shoot,” Thompson III said. “As I said, I’ll live and die with Jeff Green’s abil­ity to make de­ci­sions.”

The main sub­plot in­volved the matchup of two of col­lege bas­ket­ball’s pre­mier big men — Oden and the Hoyas’ 7-foot-2 Hib­bert, but it fiz­zled, in­stead be­com­ing a night of fouls and frus­tra­tion. Oden went to the bench less than three min­utes into the game and sat there for the rest of the first half. The story of the Hoyas’ loss be­came their in­abil­ity to cap­i­tal­ize on Oden’s ab­sence. They al­lowed Mike Con­ley, Ohio State’s lithe and quick point guard who fin­ished with 15 points and six as­sists, to mas­ter­fully di­rect the Buck­eyes (35-3) to a 27-23 half­time lead.

Hib­bert played just 24 min­utes be­cause of foul trou­ble, though he and Jonathan Wal­lace led the Hoyas with 19 points apiece. Wal­lace made a three-point shot that tied the score at 44 with 9 min­utes 45 sec­onds left. But Hib­bert soon left the game af­ter pick­ing up his fourth foul and Oden took charge. He played just 20 min­utes, but his tenac­ity on both ends of the court in the fi­nal six min­utes kept the Hoyas at bay.

What­ever re­gret and hurt that the Hoyas were feel­ing at the fi­nal buzzer barely ma­te­ri­al­ized on the floor. They seemed to un­der­stand how far the pro­gram had come in a blink of time.

“To make it this far in the tour­na­ment, you know, it’s hard to end like this, but we had a great run,” Green said.

Three years ago in a half-filled Madi­son Square Gar­den, Ge­orge­town was knocked out of the Big East tour­na­ment in the first round by Bos­ton Col­lege. The pro­gram headed by John Thompson Jr.’s top as­sis­tant, Craig Esh­er­ick, had hit its nadir. The Hoyas fin­ished a de­flat­ing 13-15 and failed to earn a post­sea­son bid for the first time since 1974 — Thompson’s sec­ond sea­son.

Like its one­time ri­val St. John’s in Queens, N.Y., the Je­suit school’s men’s bas­ket­ball pro­gram had fallen into a state of dis­re­pair af­ter its hal­cyon days in the 1980s. Back then, Ewing Sr.’s teams played in three


of­fen­sive NCAA cham­pi­onship games be­tween 1982 and ’85, win­ning the 1984 na­tional ti­tle. But what­ever residue of tra­di­tion re­mained at the old­est Catholic univer­sity in the United States lived on more in me­mory than re­al­ity.

Un­til Thompson III’s hir­ing three years ago.

The Hoyas came into the game hav­ing won eight straight and 19 of their last 20. Their ac­com­plish­ments in­cluded the Big East Con­fer­ence’s reg­u­lar sea­son and tour­na­ment cham­pi­onships and their pul­sat­ing over­time vic­tory over North Carolina last Sun­day for the NCAA East Re­gion ti­tle, which thrust the Hoyas into their first Fi­nal Four in more than two decades.

It was a run that awak­ened a dor­mant fan base and a cam­pus clam­or­ing for a win­ning team again.

In the arena, the sec­tion of gray Ge­orge­town T-shirts wasn’t nearly as big as the block of red where Ohio State fans were cheer­ing, but the Hoyas’ fans were loud and in­tense, hop­ping up and down with faces painted sil­ver and blue, pump­ing their fists.

Se­nior Pam Pa­pa­petrou and her friend Heather Sil­ve­rio said they were run­ning on adren­a­line af­ter four hours of sleep the night be­fore and camp­ing out ear­lier in the week for tick­ets.

Sil­ve­rio said: “Th­ese boys de­serve it. They’re so nice, so classy, they have no at­ti­tude. I want them to win it for them — not for us.” Then she blurted out, “I just want them to win so bad,” and the two high-fived.

Most were hope­ful at half­time that the team would pull it out. But as the game went on, fists clenched and arms crossed. One girl put her blue-painted face in her hands. At the end, some dropped into their seats for the first time, or wiped away tears.

“Tough game,” said se­nior Shaun Blugh, walk­ing out sur­rounded by men with red eyes. “Jeff Green didn’t take ad­van­tage of his op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Other stu­dents im­me­di­ately were swarmed by peo­ple try­ing to buy their tick­ets.

Back home, stu­dents and fans wan­dered through Ge­orge­town last night in dis­be­lief. Some strolled from the packed bars along M Street look­ing for some­thing other than the read­ily avail­able drafts to help them get over the loss. Hil­lary Prince, 22, found her salve: a choco­late ba­nana cream smoothie.

Through­out the game, some wan­dered through Ge­orge­town seek­ing a place that didn’t have a long line to watch the game — or a heavy cover charge. Some watched the game from a side­walk, peer­ing through the glass win­dow at J. Paul’s on M Street, where cheers rolled liked waves. But af­ter the game, Car­los de Leon, 22, could only stand and hug his girl­friend and think about what might have been. “It’s bad, it’s sad but next year,” he said. “What can you say?”

Not since 1985, the se­nior sea­son of Ewing Sr., had Ge­orge­town ad­vanced so far in the tour­na­ment.

“This is the year we moved ahead,” Ewing said, sit­ting court- side at last night’s game. “We came out of the dark­ness and into the light.” Staff writ­ers Susan Kinzie, from At­lanta, and Clarence Wil­liams, from Wash­ing­ton, con­trib­uted to this re­port.


Ge­orge­town’s Roy Hib­bert wishes things were look­ing up near the end of the game against Ohio State.


John Thompson Jr., left, sit­ting court­side as a ra­dio com­men­ta­tor at the Fi­nal Four, coached Ge­orge­town to its last na­tional cham­pi­onship in 1984.


Ge­orge­town fans watch the sec­onds tick away on the Hoyas’ game against Ohio State, and their team’s sea­son, at the Tombs, a tav­ern in Ge­orge­town.

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