Charles Nailen/The Hoya Georgetown fell to Pittsburgh in the closing seconds of its game on Saturday.

The Georgetown men’s basketball team lost yet another close contest Saturday to the No. 2 ranked Pittsburgh Panthers. As always, fans blamed the refs, chastised the games of upperclassmen players and, ultimately held Esherick accountable. The latest scapegoat was Tim Higgins, the referee who called the phantom foul that cost the Hoyas the game 65-64.

The Panthers essentially had Esherick’s team in a very difficult position near the game’s end. With a three-point lead and 30 seconds remaining, there seemed to be little chance that the Hoyas would leave with a win. Pittsburgh had the ball and only needed to avoid the Georgetown defense to send the Hoyas packing. In a strange twist of fate the Panthers took this moment to turn the ball over.

Hoya freshman forward Brendan Bowman made a bid to close the gap with a jumper on the other side of the floor. Panther junior forward Chevron Troutman blocked his shot.

This pairing of forwards is significant outside these final 30 seconds. Both of these players took on the scoring duties for their respective team to keep the game this close in the closing minutes. Bowman dropped in 16 for Georgetown on 5-of-9 shooting in 30-plus minutes of play. Troutman made every shot he took without discrimination or bias. He went 5-for-5 from the line and 10-for-10 from the floor en route to a game-high 20 points.

The normally-dominant Hoya pivot players, junior forward Mike Sweetney and senior center Wesley Wilson, were humbled to 12 and two points respectively by the Panthers. Sweetney was held back by varying zone defenses designed to reduce his ability to get touches and good looks down low. Wilson was held to only nine minutes of playing time by the vice that nearly every player in the game succumbed to fouls. This contest amounted to a grand total of 57 fouls. This alarming number of miscues led to 67 foul shots, but more importantly, it also led to the dismissal of no less than six players. Four Hoyas and two Panthers headed to the bench for good before the end of a very physical game.

After Troutman’s block, the Hoyas quickly fouled Panther junior guard Julius Page to stop the clock with 22 seconds to go. Page made one of two and Pitt was up by four as the Hoyas inbounded. Freshman guard Tony Bethel launched a three in an attempt to close the gap, but his shot was off the mark and caromed away, sending both teams scrambling for the rebound. Pittsburgh gave Georgetown a chance by foolishly fouling sophomore guard Drew Hall. Hall made both shots, whittling the lead to two.

At this point things took a turn for the bizarre. The Hoyas quickly were forced to foul Panther senior forward Donatas Zavackas, Pittsburgh’s best shooter. He then missed both shots and committed a terribly foolish foul on Bowman that gave the Hoyas an opportunity to tie the game with 3.5 seconds left. Bowman was as clutch as possible and calmly knocked in both shots.

Here was where Higgins came in. Panther junior forward Jaron Brown had two options for his inbound pass. He first looked to throw the safe ball short to sophomore guard Carl Krauser, who was looking to head for the basket and take any jumper he might have. However, as Brown looked down the court, he saw a wide-open Page looking at him and surreptitiously calling for the ball. Brown went for option number two. Page caught the ball and sprinted down the court. As Hall caught up to the Pitt guard, Page fell down. There was very little contact and what there was appeared to be incidental. Nonetheless, Tim Higgins sent Hall to the bench and Page to the line. Page made the first and missed the second on purpose and that was it – 65-64 Pittsburgh.

The events that led to the game’s finale provided their fair share of both solace and frustration for the Hoyas. Georgetown started big and jumped out to an early edge. The Hoyas’ tough defense forced the Panthers to misfire on seven of their first eight shot attempts. After 13 minutes of play, the Hoyas had a tenable lead at 21-14, but Wilson was forced to the bench with three fouls. The senior’s absence was not felt immediately, but his team needed him soon thereafter.

Pitt closed the gap to four at 29-25 after 20 minutes of play. The halftime lead was smaller than the seven-point advantage that the Hoyas enjoyed for much of the first half. However, leading the No. 2 team in the country in their own building, the Hoyas had little reason to hang their heads.

The Panthers quickly put the Hoyas back on their heels with quick offense to begin the period. In the first phase of the second half, Pitt did not miss its opportunity. The Panthers dropped in their first eight field goal attempts and built an 11-point lead at 48-37.

Georgetown was quick to answer back with a run of its own. The quicker and younger members of the Hoya team continued to put up points and the squad fought back. Sophomore guard Tony Bethel and Bowman took the scoring duty and the Hoyas rattled off 11 unanswered points to knot the score with nine minutes left.

For the final nine minutes the two squads traded baskets and fouls en route to the nail biting and, for Hoya fans, frustrating final.

This game was another indication of the Hoyas’ ability to challenge the strong teams on its schedule. Performances like this and the contests against Duke and Virginia have indicated a potential belied by unfocused losses against teams like St. John’s and Seton Hall. It is clear at this stage of the season that this team is capable of big-game success. This is an excellent sign: all games in March are big games and the more the Hoyas win, the better. However, to play in those games this team needs to get up for the Red Storms and Pirates of the Big East as well as the Cavaliers and Panthers.

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