Georgetown’s Season Ends Vs. Princeton

By Sean P. Flynn Hoya Staff Writer

PRINCETON, N.J., March 10 – It was a game of storylines – revenge for old wounds as well as a battle of brothers. But in the end, for the Georgetown men’s basketball team, it was a familiar end to a familiar story.

Victimized by hideous shooting and slowed down by Princeton’s meticulous style of play, the Hoyas lost to the Tigers, 54-47, at Jadwin Gym in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament last week.

With the loss, Georgetown ended its season with a 15-16 record, the Hoyas’ first losing season since 1972-1973, former Head Coach John Thompson’s first season in which the Hoyas went 12-14. Head Coach Craig Esherick, who replaced Thompson on Jan. 8, finished his first season as coach with an 8-10 record.

The Hoyas ended their season with another horrendous shooting performance, making only 16 of 57 shots for 28.1 percent, their worst performance since shooting 25.3 percent in a loss to Connecticut on Jan. 11, 1997. The Princeton defense, ranked first in the nation with its opponents averaging 52 points a game, made it difficult for Georgetown to get open shots. Yet when the Hoyas did get open, they were still missing.

“We lost to a good team,” Esherick said. “Princeton was good enough to be possibly in the NCAA Tournament this season, so I don’t think our players have anything to be ashamed of losing here.”

The Tigers’ patience in spite of the Hoyas’ unending full-court pressure gave them the upper hand as Georgetown lost for the first time to Ivy League team since falling to Pennsylvania in 1980. Stunningly, all five Princeton starters played all 40 minutes of the game, yet by the end of the game it seemed like the Hoyas, who made 56 substitutions, were tired.

Esherick said he was surprised that Princeton stayed with the same five players for the whole game.

“Especially against a team that likes to press . It did not look like they were tired,” he said, “We put more pressure on them than they tried to put on us, so we were going to get more tired than they were.”

After figuring out the Hoyas’ press midway through the first half, Princeton used its scrupulous style of constant cuts to the hoop and precise passes to pick apart Georgetown’s furious defense, forcing 17 turnovers.

Down low, Tiger freshman Chris Young outdueled Georgetown freshman Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje. Young made five of 11 shots for 12 points.

On the boards, despite a size advantage, the Hoyas only grabbed 34 rebounds to the Tigers’ 33. Tiger junior forward Mason Rocca, who started his first game of the year, almost single-handedly stopped the Hoyas, wiping the glass of 18 rebounds, the most by a Princeton player since Bill Bradley had 21 against Columbia in 1965.

“We were worried about Rocca going into the game, because we knew he was such a good rebounder,” Esherick said. “I was impressed with how good a rebounder he was.”

“Anytime I thought about [taking Rocca out of the game], he made another rebound, so I decided to keep him in there,” Princeton Head Coach Bill Carmody said.

As for giving Rocca a rare start, Carmody said, “It had seemed like half of the Hoyas’ offense was shooting, then getting the ball and putting it back in, so I decided to [give Rocca the start].”

This made-for-TV matchup seemed like a promoter’s dream. For one, it was a first-ever meeting for two Thompson brothers-John Thompson III, a Princeton assistant, and Georgetown assistant Ronny Thompson. The coaches’ father, ex-Hoya coach Thompson II – referred to as “Coach Emeritus” in a media release – watched the game from the upper deck of Jadwin Gym.

Even more enticing was the fact that the game was a rematch of one the classic games in college basketball history, when No. 16-seed Princeton almost upset No. 1 Georgetown in the first round of the 1989 NCAA Tournament. A couple of blocked shots by Alonzo ourning with under 10 seconds remaining allowed the Hoyas to avert what might have been the greatest upset in tournament history en route to a trip to the Elite Eight.

But the fact is that one week removed, 10 years after David almost took down Goliath, circumstances were different. The Hoyas are no longer the much-feared monsters of the East, having struggled to earn 10th place in the Big East conference this season.

Princeton, who was a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament last season, is no longer as much of the Cinderella it was before beating UCLA in the NCAA Tournament first round in 1996.

That was probably a good part of the reason only 3,289 fans filled the 6,258-seat Jadwin Gymnasium to see Princeton’s nationally televised win. The loud bunch that was there, though, saw Princeton overcome a slow start and an early deficit to lead for the final 32 minutes of the game.

The Tigers didn’t score a basket for the first six minutes of the game while the Hoyas’ press wreaked havoc. But the Hoyas could not mount a lead bigger than six, and when senior forward Gabe Lewullis (15 points) made a three-pointer to put Princeton on the scoreboard with 13:40 left in the first half, the Tigers began to loosen up.

“I thought that at the beginning of the game, we had a chance to get the upper hand against them,” Esherick said. “I think defensively we did a real good job of stopping a lot of the things they like to do. But we could not capitalize on the things we did defensively on offense.”

Brian Earl sank a three-pointer with eight minutes left to give the Tigers a 14-11 lead, and Princeton never trailed again. Sophomore guard Nat Burton (team-high 14 points) hit a pair of three-pointers late in the first half to keep the Hoyas close, but they still trailed 23-19 at the break.

In the second half, Georgetown stayed close early, and had a chance to tie when Burton made a layup and was fouled with 15:53 left. But he missed the free throw and the Tigers began to pull away, using several of its patented backdoor cuts to fool the Hoyas’ pressure defense. With the Hoyas’ shooting so poor and the Tigers using every second of the 35-second shot clock, Georgetown had trouble making a comeback.

The Hoyas tried late to erase the deficit, throwing up three-pointers and making some as well as drawing fouls to come as close as three points with 19.6 seconds left. But Princeton made 12 of 14 free throws in the final five minutes to seal up the victory.


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