It’s good that John Thompson III is already bald because Georgetown’s coach would likely be pulling his hair out watching his team play so inconsistently this season.
The Hoyas hit rock bottom on Jan. 8, suffering their worst loss in 28 years by the count of 73-45 to visiting Pitt. That was Georgetown’s third consecutive game under 50 points. After looking at a stat sheet that showed more turnovers than hoops for the Hoyas, Thompson termed the performance “embarrassing.”
Eight days later, sophomore starting forward Greg Whittington was suspended indefinitely for academic deficiencies. His teammates were deficient on the court three days after that, blowing an 11-point lead and losing 61-58 at South Florida which had been defeated by the likes of Central Florida, Western Michigan and Rutgers. That failure in Tampa dropped Georgetown to 12-4 overall and 2-3 in the Big East Conference heading to Notre Dame for Tuesday’s meeting with the 24th-ranked Irish, who had won 47 of their last 49 home games.
So naturally, the Hoyas jumped to a 21-8 advantage en route to a 63-47 upset that included an 18-0 Georgetown run in the second half after Notre Dame had cut the lead to 40-37.
“It was key to come out from the tip, get that quick start and jump right on,” said sophomore forward Otto Porter, who led 13-4 Georgetown with 19 points. “We knew they were going to make their run, and we just tried to stay composed. We [didn’t] want to get rattled or anything like that, and we did a very good job at that.”
That was evident as the often-off-target Hoyas shoot 53.3 percent from the field, they held the Irish, who came in as the Big East’s best shooting team, to a .347 percentage. Notre Dame’s 47 points were its fewest in South Bend in 41 years. The Irish had won 21 of their last 23 Big East games at the Joyce Center.
“Men versus boys,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey lamented despite knowing that Georgetown played a freshman, four sophomores and three juniors, one of whom is in just his second varsity season.
“This league is crazy,” said Thompson, whose team out-rebounded Notre Dame 35-24. “Our defensive effort was really good today. We were on the same page and we made things difficult for them. That’s just hard work. There’s no magic formula here. Our guys just sucked it up and played hard today. … We have to continue to get better. How would I sum us up? We weren’t good the other night [at South Florida]. We were good tonight. Hopefully we’ll be good the next night.”
That next night is actually tomorrow afternoon at Verizon Center against fifth-ranked Louisville, the nation’s top team until losing at home to Syracuse last Saturday and being stunned by lightly-regarded Villanova on Tuesday.
At 3-3 in the Big East, Georgetown is tied for seventh with Notre Dame and Villanova and just a half-game behind Pitt, Cincinnati and St. John’s, who are tied for fourth. Syracuse (6-0), Marquette (4-1) and Louisville (4-2) are the pace-setters in the 16-team conference which figures to send at last half a dozen teams to the NCAA Tournament.
Of course, the Big East as we knew it began to come apart when founding member Boston College left for the ACC in 2005. Syracuse and Pitt follow suit next season, prompting Georgetown and fellow founding members Providence, St. John’s and Seton Hall as well as DePaul, Marquette and Villanova to announce plans to form a basketball-focused league separate from the Big East, which they believed had become geographically unwieldy and too football-centric.
In the meantime, before the Catholic Seven gets up and running, Georgetown follows tomorrow’s test against the Cardinals with a pair of dates remaining with the third-ranked Orange, a contest at No. 21 Cincinnati, and the rematch with Marquette during its final 11 games. The Golden Eagles beat the Hoyas 49-48 on Jan. 5.
If Georgetown can provide a reasonable facsimile of the squad that took apart Notre Dame, then it’s reasonable to expect victories in at least two of those five formidable contests and in at least four of seven against Rutgers (twice), St. John’s, Seton Hall, DePaul, Connecticut and Villanova. That would leave the Hoyas at 19-10 overall and 9-9 in the Big East. Just one more victory would ensure a 20-win season and a winning record in the conference, both usually enough to stamp a team’s ticket for the big dance.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin