Hoyas: 1-3 in Big East

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - TRACEE HAMIL­TON hamil­tont@wash­post.com

No. 13 Ge­orge­town falls to its worst start in con­fer­ence play since 2003-04 with a 65-59 loss to vis­it­ing West Vir­ginia.

It’s one game. That’s the party line, the coach­ing cliche, and it’s usu­ally the truth. But Ge­orge­town’s 65-59 loss to West Vir­ginia on Satur­day at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter felt less like one game and more like a ref­er­en­dum on this team’s sea­son.

The Hoyas dropped to 1-3 in the Big East, with No. 5 Pitts­burgh head­ing to town on Wed­nes­day. If they play against the Pan­thers the way they did Satur­day, the Hoyas will start the Big East sea­son 1-4. In a league that put seven teams in the top 25 this past week, that’s not good, even if all 16 teams take turns beat­ing each other sense­less dur­ing the con­fer­ence sea­son.

“We’re four games into an 18game sea­son,” Hoyas Coach John Thomp­son III said, somberly. “ The bad news is we’ve lost three of those games. This is the Big East, so no game gets any eas­ier. Does that put a height­ened sense of ur­gency on the Pitts­burgh game? Ab­so­lutely.”

Thomp­son is right; there aren’t a lot of gimme putts on the Big East sched­ule. But Satur­day’s matchup came close. Both teams came into the game 1-2 in the Big East. Both teams had beaten only DePaul in league play.

But the Hoyas had man­aged a hand­ful of de­cent non­con­fer­ence wins — Mis­souri, Mem­phis, Utah State, North Carolina State — en route to a 12-3 record and No. 13 rank­ing. The Moun­taineers, on the other hand, came to town un­ranked and with a 9-4 record.

In fact, West Vir­ginia Coach Bob Hug­gins has been so frus­trated with his team that three games ago, he be­gan quizzing his play­ers, be­fore games, on the scout­ing re­ports they were sup­posed to have ab­sorbed. It’s not a new gim­mick — “I’ve done it be­fore when we’ve had knuck­le­heads,” Hug­gins sweet-talked af­ter the game. Fri­day, the Moun­taineers’ prac­tice was, by Hug­gins’s de­scrip­tion, “aw­ful.”

“If it wasn’t the worst I’ve ever been as­so­ci­ated with, it was close,” said the man who’s sat through 29 years of them.

Yet that same team, a day later, took more free throws, hit more three-point­ers and grabbed more re­bounds than Ge­orge­town.

In Big East play, the Hoyas have got­ten to the line just 63 times, com­pared with 98 by their op­po­nents. Ref­er­ees miss an oc­ca­sional call, but not that many. What ex­plains the dis­par­ity?

“I don’t know the an­swer; ‘we’re foul­ing more’ is the easy an­swer to that ques­tion,” Thomp­son said.

Hug­gins cred­ited the dis­par­ity to tak­ing more shots than the Hoyas — eight, in fact.

Af­ter the game, Hug­gins called Hoyas guards Ja­son Clark, Austin Free­man and Chris Wright “ the three best perime­ter guys in the coun­try. I don’t think there’s any­one who’s even close to those guys.” That may be the case, but the trio was a com­bined 4 of 15 from be­hind the arc Satur­day. In four Big East games, the Hoyas as a team are shoot­ing just 26 per­cent from three-point range.

That might not hurt so much if they were get­ting some put­backs, but against West Vir­ginia, Ge­orge­town had just four of­fen­sive re­bounds. Four. The Hoyas ranked last in the Big East in of­fen­sive re­bound­ing be­fore Satur­day’s loss. They had five points Satur­day on sec­ond chances; the Moun­taineers had 12.

Mean­while, the Moun­taineers were play­ing their best game, “with­out a doubt,” ac­cord­ing to Hug­gins. “ This is the best we’ve shared the ball and it’s cer­tainly the best we’ve de­fended and it’s the best we re­bounded.”

All of that was bad news for Ge­orge­town, but even run­ning into a team play­ing its best bas­ket­ball of the sea­son doesn’t ex­plain the fact that the Hoyas were score­less in the fi­nal 2 min­utes 35 sec­onds of the game, af­ter Clark’s free throw cut the Moun­taineers’ lead to 62-59. In fact, they only got off one shot in the fi­nal 2:35.

“ That, in many ways, is un­char­ac­ter­is­tic,” Thomp­son said. “We had chances, we had op­por­tu­ni­ties, but it did not work out the way we wanted them to.”

Thomp­son’s sum­ma­tion is an ac­cu­rate one. The Hoyas did have chances, but fell short. In the Big East, such op­por­tu­ni­ties can’t be squan­dered.

“It would be easy to sit here and say that’s just how the ball bounces,” Thomp­son said. “We’re in a place where we don’t want to be right now. Ev­ery­one in that locker room from my­self on down has to fig­ure out how to get us out of this place.”

And they’ll need to fig­ure it out by Wed­nes­day.

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