Braswell, Hoyas Give Georgetown a Reason to Keep its Head up

By Tim Sullivan Hoya Staff Writer

In case you missed it, the Hoyas played their hearts out this week at Madison Square Garden. And while their shocking run to the Big East semifinals and their epic performance against Virginia does not make up for their inexcusable play much of this year, it sure as hell made you feel good to be a Hoya fan again.

The Hoyas were nothing short of amazing in their upset victory over arch-rival Syracuse last week, doing everything right in a start-to-finish victory. As a Hoya fan, you can look at this in a bunch of different ways. You can be angry that a team with obvious potential went on the road and lost to the likes of Rutgers, West Virginia and, worst of all, lowly Providence; had they won two of those games, they would probably be NCAA bound.

You can look at their Big East run as a fluke, an aberration from their norm of mediocrity. Or you can realize that the Hoyas grew up that weekend and are poised to do some damage in both the NIT, as they proved Wednesday against Virginia, as well as the Big East next year.

From top to bottom, the Hoyas were nearly flawless for all but 10 minutes at Madison Square Garden. Sophomore guard Kevin Braswell finally became the player we all knew he could be, taking the team on his back and not folding in the clutch, which continued against UVa. His performance against the Cavaliers was nothing short of heroic; he gave us everything he had, so much that he needed IV treatment after his 40-point night.

Braswell has shown us a lot in this postseason. Beyond his talent, he showed a marked maturation from the number 12 we saw early on against Providence and St. John’s. He was the floor general, leading his team both statistically and emotionally. It was Braswell who huddled the team on the foul line down the stretch, Braswell who broke through the Syracuse press with some of the most impressive ball handling around and Braswell who made himself the leader of the Hoyas with his intensity and gritty play. He may only be a sophomore, but he is playing like a polished veteran out there, and it has made all the difference in the world to a Hoyas team hungry for leadership.

As you look further down the road, in the NIT as well as next year, you have to be thrilled about junior college transfer Lee Scruggs, who single-handedly broke down the Syracuse zone with his clutch shooting and dominated the Huskies, putting up a career-high 27 points. Head Coach Craig Esherick put it perfectly when he said that Scruggs is a two-guard in a 6-foot-11 body. He is nearly impossible to defend in the high post, as UConn learned the hard way. He befuddled the Huskie defense; even UConn Head Coach Jim Calhoun said one guy alone couldn’t defend him.

With Scruggs in the fold, the Hoyas have an impressive offensive machine, who, if he can learn to play some defense, could be a huge star. Any of Scruggs’ remaining doubters were shown the door along with UVa Wednesday after he left his heart on the floor. He laid it all on the line for the Hoyas, visibly angered when he was taken out of the game and playing with all sorts of intensity despite an injury and extreme fatigue.

The weekend run marks a turning point for Esherick, who was still toiling in the lingering shadow of Coach Emeritus John Thompson. The victory over Syracuse is the first in what will hopefully be a long line of successes in the Esherick era. Esherick did a phenomenal job against the Orangemen, devising a brilliant game plan that handed the Orangemen their fifth loss of the season.

The substitution pattern designed by Esherick worked like a charm in two different aspects. Constantly swapping Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje for Jameel Watkins kept a fresh body on Syracuse star Etan Thomas at all times, holding him to a quiet 17 points, most of them in the first half. It also kept Scruggs off the floor during many defensive situations, keeping him out of foul trouble.

Offensively, putting Scruggs on the foul line wrought havoc with the Syracuse defense, giving the Hoyas countless open looks at the hole. Credit Esherick for much of this victory.

For the first time in a long time, the Hoyas are doing the little things right, too. They shot impeccably from the foul line in all four games and made a lot of clutch shots. The Hoyas of old would not have been able to hang with UConn for as long they did Friday night or overcome the huge deficit they faced against Virginia.

Even the role players did their jobs well. Junior walk-on Gharun Hester provided a spark off of the bench and gave the Hoyas quality minutes when they needed them. And how about that shot? Game ball to Hester for having the confidence to shoot when nearly everyone in the building wanted him to pass off. Granted, if he missed, I would be killing him for his reckless behavior. But hey, a win erases all of that.

Budding star Demetrius Hunter shot well and helped keep the Hoyas out in front of Syracuse with several big shots. Courtland Freeman and Nat Burton both were key contributors. Watkins was Mr. First Half against both Syracuse and UConn, giving the Hoyas a good start in both games.

Give a lot of credit to Boumtje-Boumtje, who came back from an ankle injury to play well against the Orangemen, showing a lot of heart. Victor Samnick overcame an injury that kept him sidelined for the first two games, making it into the waning minutes of the semifinals.

It is premature to declare the Hoyas back after a four-game run at the end of the season. But the Hoyas have given this school something to cheer for as well as hope for the future. Georgetown will lose only two players, Watkins and Rhese Gibson, to graduation and will have highly-touted, academically-ineligible center Wesley Wilson and several heavily recruited freshmen on the squad. Make no mistake about it; the future looks bright for the Hoyas.

But beyond next year, the Hoyas did something very special this weekend; they gave Georgetown something to be proud of. In a year in which we continue to make front-page headlines more often on the news page than on the sports page, how good did it feel to be back in the limelight for something positive? So stand up and cheer. The Hoyas were winners, both for themselves and for us. It’s about time we felt good about ourselves.

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