MEN’S HOOPS Another Season Ends For Georgetown Hoops By Tom Kenny Hoya Staff Writer

Charles Nailen/The Hoya Senior point guard Kevin Braswell, shown above, finished his last season for the Hoyas.

There are several good candidates as to what will be the lasting image of the 2001-2002 Georgetown men’s basketball season, which ended abruptly last Sunday with the Hoyas record at 19-11 overall and 10-8 in Big East games. It might be that of Connecticut sophomore forward Caron Butler dribbling calmly at the top of the key without being fouled as the clock ticked away. It could be Villanova sophomore guard Derrick Snowden taking the ball virtually uncontested down the court and hitting a runner to send the game into one of several disastrous overtime periods for the Hoyas. issed opportunities at the end of regulation, the first overtime, the second overtime and the third overtime against Notre Dame will be burned in the memories of Hoya fans for years to come.

What will not be among the memories of this past season are Big East Championships or NCAA Tournament victories. Back in November, most thought that the Hoyas’ season would still be alive and well come the middle of March. Returning to the Sweet 16 was expected and appearing in the Final Four was not out of the question. But things did not go according to plan. With Head Coach Craig Esherick’s decision to decline a bid to the National Invitation Tournament last Sunday, Georgetown ended one of its most frustrating seasons in the last several decades.

A 73-59 loss to Georgia in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic on Nov. 19 was a harbinger of things to come. The Hoyas entered the game ranked No. 15 in the country while the Bulldogs limped into the contest with only eight scholarship players. Despite its disadvantages, Georgia dominated the boards, holding a decisive 52-37 edge. They used a 2-3 zone to stifle the Hoyas’ offense. Georgetown finished the game 1-17 from beyond the arc.

Georgetown then reeled off eight straight wins. However, seven were low quality wins against small-conference opponents. They did manage to pick up a rare last second victory at South Carolina on Dec. 6 when senior guard Kevin Braswell sank a 20 foot jumper with just over 2.2 seconds remaining to clinch a 70-68 win in a game that featured 22 lead changes.

However, their rebounding woes returned against then-No. 5 Virginia on Dec. 20 as the Cavaliers outrebounded the Hoyas 44-29. They held on to a large early lead for a 61-55 win. A week later against UCLA, a slow start doomed the Hoyas again. They fell behind 55-35 at the half and could not make that up, falling 98-91 despite 19 points and 17 rebounds from sophomore forward Mike Sweetney.

The same problems continued to haunt the Hoyas at the start of the Big East season. Periods of brilliant play were ruined by long stretches of virtual impotence in several games. In the conference opener against Miami, Georgetown once again fell behind by double digits early and could not come all the way back despite 25 points from Sweetney. A late game meltdown in the following game against Rutgers resulted in an 89-87 overtime loss, the first in a string of six agonizing one-point or overtime losses on the season. The loss knocked Georgetown out of the top 25 for good. Sweetney was once again brilliant, pouring in 26 points and pulling down 13 rebounds.

There were times when the Hoyas did put together complete games and showed their full potential, which probably makes the losses all the more frustrating for Hoya fans. In road wins over Boston College and Notre Dame and a home victory over then-No. 10 Syracuse, Georgetown thoroughly dominated each game, winning all three by double digits. However, these victories were broken up by two losses against Pittsburgh.

In the first loss at home, the Hoyas saw a furious comeback go to waste when no one boxed out Pitt sophomore forward Jaron Brown, who strode in from the weak side to rebound junior guard Brandin Knight’s missed jumper and give the Panthers a 68-67 victory. In the rematch in Pittsburgh a week later, the Hoyas built a 10 point first half lead but barely showed up in the second, shooting 5-28 from the field.

Despite their struggles in December and January, the Hoyas entered the final month of the season still very much in contention for an NCAA bid. They would have made the tournament easily if a series of excruciatingly close losses had gone their way. The quadruple overtime 116-111 loss to Notre Dame will go down as one of the greatest games in Big East history, but that will be of little solace to Hoya fans. Sweetney’s 35 point, 20 rebound performance was nothing short of heroic and junior center Wesley Wilson had a career game, scoring 26 points. However, both had fouled out by the middle of the fourth overtime period. In the end, Georgetown had nothing left to answer Notre Dame freshman guard Chris Thomas and junior guard Matt Carroll, who played 60 and 55 minutes respectively. Braswell shot 5-for-19 on the day and missed game winning shots at the end of regulation and the first two overtimes. He called it, “the worst game of my life.”

But the agony did not end there. After a win over Seton Hall, two more difficult losses followed. Georgetown could not hold on to a five point lead in the final minute against Villanova, eventually losing 83-72. A 75-74 loss to Connecticut in which Esherick made the questionable decision not to foul with the Hoyas trailing by one in the closing seconds appeared to eliminate any hopes of an at-large bid.

However, Georgetown would once again rally. They closed the season with three straight victories. In a 75-69 win over Syracuse to complete the Hoyas first season sweep over the Orangemen since 1988, sophomore swingman Gerald Riley played one of the best games of his up and down season, scoring 18 points including several key shots down the stretch. A week later against Rutgers, Braswell ended his career at MCI Center on a high note, scoring 18 points and dishing out 16 assists to become Georgetown’s all time leader in assists as Georgetown cruised to an 88-69 victory. Freshman guard Tony Bethel’s yearlong progress reached a culmination, scoring a team-high 21 points.

When the Hoyas entered the Big East Tournament, they seemed to finally be coming together. Many considered them a sleeper team to win it all. However things did not start well against Providence. Georgetown tied a tournament record with 27 turnovers and would have been sent home if not for the late game heroics of freshman guard Drew Hall. Hall swished two free throws to give Georgetown a one point lead late. After Providence junior guard Abdul Mills answered right back with a lay-up, Hall raced the ball down court and found Wilson under the basket for the game-winning dunk.

Georgetown would not be able to pull off a similar escape the following day against No. 16 Miami. The Hoyas looked strong for the first three quarters of the game and built a 63-53 lead with less than eight minutes remaining. But they had no answer for iami’s tandem of sophomore forward Darius Rice and sophomore guard Marcus Barnes, who brought Miami back into the game. Two turnovers by freshman forward Harvey Thomas and junior Courtland Freeman in the final minute prevented any chance Georgetown had of winning the game in regulation. The Hoyas were once again futile in overtime as Miami won 84-76.

Georgetown’s extremely slim NCAA hopes were dashed three days later on selection Sunday and the season officially ended later that night when Esherick decided to decline an NIT bid. Where exactly things went awry is open to debate. Many would blame the coaching. Braswell’s erratic play is a favorite target of frustrated Hoya fans. Youth and inexperience were factors as Braswell was the only regular player with more than a year of experience playing college basketball after junior forward Victor Samnick suffered a season-ending injury in January. An improved out of conference schedule prevented Georgetown from racking up a number of early wins as they had done the previous year. Poor execution in the closing the minutes of more than a couple of games is the most obvious reason. Simple bad luck certainly played a role. Most likely it was a combination of all of these factors.

With no postseason games to play, the Hoyas can only look forward to next year. There are plenty of reasons for fans to be as optimistic, if not more so, as they were at the start of this season. Sweetney has proven that he is one of the elite players in the country despite his lack of All-America recognition. Bethel showed that he is one of the better shooters Georgetown has had in recent years. There was a definite improvement in Wilson’s play from the beginning of the Big East season to the end. Thomas should benefit from not missing the first month and a half of practice as he did this year. Hall’s play in the Big East Tournament was very encouraging if he is to be Georgetown’s point guard of the future.

Finally, there is the hope that if the Hoyas can just get a few bounces in their favor that they did not get this year, the 2002-03 season could be everything that 2001-02 almost was.

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