After rolling through the nonconference schedule, the Georgetown men’s basketball team looked poised to waltz through Big East play on their way to the NCAA Tournament. Over the weekend, the Hoyas tasted a dose of reality as West Virginia ended their 11-game winning streak. Monday night, however, the Hoyas were confronted with the sheer brutality of the Big East schedule, as the unranked Cincinnati Bearcats marched into the Verizon Center and gave the Hoyas all they could handle off just one day’s rest, winning 68-64.
As the final score would indicate, the game was close throughout. Junior Hollis Thompson powered the Hoyas in the first half, hitting four of four three point attempts, including one off-balance at the halftime buzzer. But the Bearcats kept the Hoyas offense in check by using senior big man Yancy Gates to swarm Henry Sims in the post. Unable to pass effectively out of the high post as usual, Sims struggled to get going, which Cincinnati Head Coach Mick Cronin believes was the deciding factor in the win.
“Tonight I asked him to be the key to the defense with Sims,” Cronin said. “This team runs their offense as good as any team I’ve coached against… obviously a great win for our team.”
The Cincinnati defense then adjusted in the second half to blanket the hot hand of Hollis Thompson, who took just one shot after the break. Cronin stressed pressuring him was crucial when the Bearcats regrouped at halftime. For Thompson, the disconnect between the two halves was clear.
“I had the open shots in the first half,” he said. “Second half they prepared differently.”
Meanwhile, sophomore Sean Kilpatrick and senior Dion Dixon supplied the Bearcats with endless penetration and reliable jump-shooting to carry the Cincinnati offense. The Bearcats had no assists at the half, despite the two guards combining for 24 points to keep Cincinnati close.
They continued to dominate the game in the second half, ultimately overwhelming the slim Georgetown lead in the final minutes. Kilpatrick finished with a game high 27 points, while Dixon added 22, as the pair accounted for nearly 87% of Cincinnati’s scoring in the contest.
But despite the tremendous performances from the Bearcats’ two leading scorers, the Hoyas are convinced they beat themselves, which Head Coach John Thompson III highlighting their unforced turnovers as a major cause of their undoing.
“It’s something we have to take care of,” Coach Thompson said. “We just have to hold it and focus a little more. I don’t mean to negate anything they did… but we shot ourselves in the foot.”
Senior Jason Clark, who finished with an efficient 14 points on 6 of 7 shooting tried to push the Hoyas offense in the second half, but often found himself sprinting back to defend his own hoop as his team carelessly gave the ball away.
“When were good with the ball, were a great team,” Clark said. “When stuff happens like it did tonight, we don’t look so good.”
Possessing three years experience of playing on teams that crumbled after impressive starts, Clark is confident he can help his younger teammates through their first major hurdle of the season, knowing full-well how a culture of losing can grow on a team.
“We can’t fall into a rhythm of losing,” Clark said. “We can’t start pointing fingers. We’ve know what makes us good and we’ve got to get back to those things.”
With winnable games against St. Johns and DePaul on the immediate horizon, the Hoyas have a great chance to put their tough two-game stretch behind them. Yet, if tonight is any indication, the Hoyas cannot underestimate any of their Big East opponents if they hope to hold onto their spot among the elite teams in the nation’s premier basketball conference.