Games that Matter – January 26, 2011
ESPN / USA Today: 20
Almost Back to .500: Or, How the Hoyas Ran Through New Jersey and Saved Their Season
Those two road games in the Garden State seem like an eternity ago. But it’s hard to overstate their significance. A loss to either Rutgers or Seton Hall would have doomed this Georgetown team and made it very difficult for the Hoyas to finish in the top half of the conference. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty. But in the words of learned basketball minds all across America: A win is a win (is a win is a win is a win). Austin seems to have found his stroke again. Chris is making smarter decisions. The rest of the problems remain the same. We won two consecutive road games in the Big East, and that’s never an easy thing, but last week is over. We needed those games to gain some measure of respectability, and we need tonight’s game to get back to .500 and start reclaiming our place among the Big East’s elite.
The Last Time We Played St. John’s
The last time we played St. John’s was a really crappy night. Whether you were at the Garden, watching the game on TV, or checking the score on your blackberry while on an overnight bus to Mendoza, it was painful all the way around. St. John’s is a pretty good team with lots of experience. But on that Monday night, two days after New Year’s, Georgetown just laid an egg.
You remember the basics. We lost 61-58. Austin, Chris and Jason combined for a grand total of 20 points. Austin and Chris didn’t score a single basket in the final 17:41 of the game. Hollis Thompson led the Hoyas with 16 points and, unbelievably, was the only Georgetown player to score in double figures. Chris shot 1for 7 from three point range.
Here are some things you may not remember. Our defense was atrocious. We only forced four turnovers. Dwight Hardy made all ten free throws he attempted. Somehow, we shot better than St. John’s from the field and actually out-rebounded them too. Nate Lubick played 24 minutes. Hank Sims made all three field goals he attempted. And Justin Brownlee absolutely killed us – with 15 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. We played like crap, our Big Three was terrible, and yet we lost the game because we let Hardy get into the lane on the last possession, and then somebody forgot to box out Brownlee on the weak side. That go-ahead basket was a play that typifies our shoddy interior defense.
Preview of Wednesday's Game: Georgetown v. St. John’s, 7pm
Tonight’s game presents more than just an opportunity at payback. It’s also a chance for this Hoyas team to get back to .500 in the Big East and, at least for the time being, gain some momentum and respectability. And even though it’s still relatively early in the season, tonight’s game is a must-win. We can’t afford to get swept by the Johnnies and fall to 3-5 in conference play. With a series of tough games looming, Georgetown needs to finish its stretch of NY/NJ games with an emphatic win in advance of a rivalry game at ‘Nova.
This St. John’s team is both different and the same. It’s the same team that likes to use the dribble drive and fight its way to the basket. And it’s the same team that has veteran players (like last year). But it’s different in the sense that (a) the Johnnies don’t rebound as well, and (b) they’ve become a pretty good free throw shooting team. (And yes, I know they were atrocious from the line against Cincy, but that result was an anomaly. Dwight Hardy leads the team in free throw shooting, connecting on 78 of 87 so far this season. In the game against Cincy he only attempted one free throw. The rest of the team shot 12 for 25 from the line.)
Keys to the Game:
1. Turnovers: Georgetown is 15th in the Big East in turnover margin. Turnovers and unforced errors are absolutely killing us this season. Whether it’s Chris Wright dribbling into four guys or Julian Vaughn taking twelve steps, or Jason Clark transforming into “Crazy Jason” (i.e. dribbling off his foot, getting scared when he’s double-teamed in the backcourt, making errant passes), the Hoyas have been their own worst enemy. That needs to change tonight.
2. Free Throws: Ignore the Johnnies’ performance against Cincy. As a team, St. John’s shoots 70% from the line. Dwight Hardy shoots close to 90% and typically leads the team in free throws attempted. D.J. Kennedy and Justin Brownlee are also very good from the line. Georgetown needs to play tough defense without fouling so often. My biggest fear is that Hardy and Kennedy will get into the lane and then get fouled on the way up. And if that doesn’t happen, then Brownlee or Burrell will get fouled after a weak side rebound. We need to be smart. Make St. John’s beat us from the perimeter, not the foul line.
3. Force Perimeter Shots: St. John’s shoots 31% from the three point range. Dwight Hardy shoots 29% (and yet he still attempts more threes than anyone else on the team). The more we can force the Red Storm to take deep shots, the more we will improve our chances of winning this game. Keep the shooters outside, collect defensive boards and play smart.
4. Interior Defense: You heard JTIII say it after the Seton Hall game. The Hoyas would do nothing but work on 1 on 1 drills. Our interior defense has been terrible. Julian has occasionally been effective as a shot blocker, but the rest of the team has struggled. Unless and until this team can fix its defensive woes, we shouldn’t expect anything more than a .500 finish in the conference. It’s time for us to start getting after people. When we played well earlier this season, we were getting steals and easy transition baskets. I love Chris Wright in transition. Step it up on the defensive end and make something happen.
5. Jason Clark: Jason attempted one three point field goal in our last game against St. John’s. He missed it. He’s had 8 long days to do nothing but play defense and practice shooting threes. We need Jason to find his stroke and we need him to find it sooner rather than later.
This is a big game for St. John’s. They’ve lost four of their last five games, including a heartbreaker to Cincy (which many are calling the first bubble game of the season). They’re hungry for a win in advance of their even bigger game against Duke.
But this is also a big game for Georgetown. If we want to bring this team back to respectability and show that we’re more than a bubble team this season, then we need to win this game. Period. We’ve had 8 days off. We’re playing at home. We know this opponent is good because they’ve already defeated us this season. After a sluggish start to conference play, we need some hope. A win against the Johnnies will make us start believing again. A loss? Well, let’s not even think about that.
Let's go Hoyas. Beat St. John’s.