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Junior forward DaJuan Summers

Marquette Head Coach Buzz Williams has what he calls a midnight rule. His Golden Eagles can savor a win or wallow in a loss until the clock strikes 12; after that, attention turns to the next challenge.

Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III’s best hope is that his team (12-7, 3-5 Big East), coming off of a deflating loss at Cincinnati and losers of four straight and six of eight, can act accordingly heading into a road matchup against No. 8 Marquette (18-2, 7-0).

And if the Golden Eagles hold on to their 71-64 win at Notre Dame a little bit too long, that wouldn’t hurt either.

Indeed, with Marquette on a roll and the Hoyas in the midst of a free-fall, Georgetown will need all the help it can get, especially if leading-scorer DaJuan Summers, a junior forward, is forced to sit out with a sprained left foot, an injury he sustained late in the first half against Cincinnati. As of Thursday night, Summers was day-to-day, according to an athletic department spokesperson.

“We’re struggling right now and overall we just have to figure out – [with our] backs against the wall, how to claw our way out of the situation that we’re in,” Thompson said on yesterday’s Big East coaches conference call.

As Thompson was quick to point out on the call, if Summers is out, freshmen and sophomores will comprise the Hoyas’ lineup for nearly the entire game Saturday. Senior guard Jessie Sapp will be the only upperclassman to see time. As he searches for an answer to his team’s problems, Thompson concedes that some of Georgetown’s struggles may be attributable to youth.

“Our guys are fighting, our guys want to win, but you have to go through a growth process,” Thompson said. “We had some success early, and some people can have a tendency to forget just the lessons that young kids need to learn, need to go through experiences, need to have to develop. . That’s a luxury we don’t have, of experience and understanding.”

eanwhile, the Golden Eagles ooze experience. Marquette is led by a dynamic senior backcourt triumvirate made up of Dominic James, once a freshman star who has developed into a solid, if no longer spectacular, leader; Jerel McNeal, the reigning Big East defensive player of the year who leads the team in scoring (19.4 points per game) and shoots 46 percent from three-point range; and Wesley Matthews, a long-time role player who has taken his offensive game to another level and now averages 19 points per game.

Combined, the three-guard lineup averages 50 points – about what Georgetown’s been putting up the last few games.

“The combination of their talent and the combination of their experience makes them special,” Williams said on the Jan. 18 coaches conference call. “I think that the combination of those two things, in addition to their character, makes them something I probably won’t have the opportunity to be around in my career again. They’re special people and they are better people than they are players and the combination of those two things thus far in the season has been shown almost on a game-by-game basis.”

Against the Irish on Monday evening, McNeal went for 27 points, Matthews, who Williams says plays the power forward position for much of each game, scored 16, and the 5-foot-11 James added a cool 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

James, the 2005-06 Big East rookie of the year, was the talk of the league as a freshman and even drew a few comparisons to former Marquette star Dwyane Wade. After two seasons in which James appeared to be more or less the same player as he was as a freshman, some were ready to write off the Richmond, Ind., native. Instead, James returned for his senior season refocused and sharper than ever.

“I think he’s playing the game the right way,” Williams said. “He’s engaging his defender every possession, not necessarily to shoot but because he engages his defender, it allows him to deliver the ball on time, on target most of the time. But I think what probably is not mentioned enough is how he has grown from a defensive perspective. . I think because he’s gotten so much better defensively, that’s allowed him to get better offensively because I think he understands the value of every possession in a more defined way, because of how he’s matured defensively.”

As Williams alluded to, it may be experience that sets McNeal, Matthews and James apart – more so than their individual talents.

Thompson agrees.

“Those guys are hard,” Thompson said. “They’ve been through it. They’ve had good times and bad times. They understand the process of going through a Big East season, of going on the road with short turnaround, just a lot of the lessons we are learning now, they have already experienced.”

Though he is often overshadowed by the team’s guards, junior forward Lazar Hayward has had an equally impressive season. Listed at 6-foot-6 and called 6-foot-4 and three-quarters by Williams, Hayward has improved from 12.8 points and 6.5 rebounds a year ago to 16.3 and 8.7 this season. He’s also shooting a solid 36.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Combine the three guards with Hayward, a serviceable center in 6-foot-8 senior Dwight Burke and a bench that features four players who play at least 10 minutes a game, and Marquette can do it all. The Golden Eagles shoot 47 percent (36 percent from three), average 80 points, surrender just 67 and force 15.8 turnovers a game.

The Hoyas will need to show serious improvement if they are to even have a chance of dealing Marquette its first home loss of the year.

And while Thompson sounded a bit overwhelmed on Thursday’s conference call – he said he had been up all night sorting out his team – he also sounded confident that his team would right the ship.

“Lessons can be learned quickly and we have guys that want to win, guys that are working hard,” he said. “As I said last night after our game, we will figure this out.”

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