WASHINGTON - John Thompson III has unquestionably brought the Georgetown basketball program back to national relevancy, but if anything has defined his tenure as the head coach of the Hoyas, its late-season meltdowns.
The Hoyas won the Big East Tournament and made a run to the Final Four in 2007, but that March seemed to use up all of their postseason magic. In 2008, the Hoyas won the 2008 Big East regular season title and made the final of the tournament before losing to Davidson and Steph Curry in the second round of the Big Dance. The following year Georgetown didn't even make the NCAA Tournament, getting bounced in the first round of the NIT after finishing the regular season 16-14 and 7-11 in conference play despite a 10-1 start to the year. In 2010, the Hoyas started the year out with wins in 15 of their first 18 games, but went 8-8 down the stretch and got bounced in the first round of the Big Dance by Ohio. And last season, Chris Wright's broken hand facilitated four losses in their final five regular season games before first round exits in both the Big East and the NCAA Tournaments.
This season, Georgetown fans have been waiting for the collapse, determined not to have their hearts broken. They've been waiting for the team that, prior to their Wednesday night tilt with UConn, was 16-4 overall and 6-3 in the Big East to come back to earth.
And for a while, it looked as if that collapse was on the horizon. After two less-than-stellar performances in wins over DePaul and Rutgers, Georgetown went into the Peterson Events Center and got dropped by the Panthers. That's what made this win so important for Georgetown. At this point in the season, they don't "need" a win, not when they are sitting in third place in the Big East with enough strength in their non-conference schedule to ensure that they are going to have to fall pretty hard to miss the NCAA Tournament.
More than anything, Georgetown just needed a confidence builder, the kind of performance that would push their recent struggles to the back of their mind. And that's what they get in Wednesday's 58-44 win over UConn.
"It was good to have this type of performance, because I thought we played well at both ends of the floor," JT III said after the game. "Our communication, our effort and our attentiveness was good."
Thompson isn't quite on the level of his father in terms of putting a guard up around his program, but he does not like to allow anyone into the inner-workings of his team. Case in point: Jason Clark was asked about the offense that Georgetown was running last night, and he responded by saying the Hoyas were using some new sets they had been putting in over the last week. But about halfway through his answer, you could hear Thompson in the background with a subtle "shhh". Clark heard this, smiled and continued answering the question, only with a more vague and stock response.
For a coach that rarely comments on how important or influential a single game is to make that kind of statement about Georgetown's play is notable.
Georgetown's defense was terrific against UConn, as was their work on the glass, but perhaps the most important aspect to take out of this game was the play of Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims.
Thompson has struggled of late. Over the last three games, he was averaging just 9.7 ppg while shooting 37.5% from the floor and just 3-10 from three. And while Thompson didn't exactly shoot the ball as well as we have seen him in the past, he did finish with 18 points, nine boards and two steals. He also hit a couple of big shots midway through the second half as the Hoyas held off a UConn run.
His coach, however, was more impressed with the work Thompson did without the ball in his hands.
"I thought this was one of the better games that Hollis has played because he did so many things," JT III said. "You can look at the stat sheet and see that he had 18 and 9, but he was key in that zone defense. Not just the steals, but being there so they didn't get the shots."
"Its the exact opposite of the Pittsburgh game where I thought he was just floating. He wasn't floating today, he was an active part in every aspect of the game and effective."
Sims was also able to put together a solid performance, although it took a while for him to find his rhythm. Early on in the game, UConn's star freshman Andre Drummond looked dominant, scoring eight points in the first 3:23 of the game. He finished with 18 points on 9-12 shooting and helped force Sims into seven turnovers on the game. Turnovers have been an issue plaguing Sims over the last few weeks, and he was exposed on Wednesday night.
But to his credit, he didn't stop attacking. Sims scored the last six points in a 10-2 run after UConn cut the lead to six, a stretch that included a thunderous dunk over Jeremy Lamb that got the Verizon Center rocking.
"Everybody was just like 'Woah'", Thompson said of Sims' dunk, "'on his head?' It was a great dunk."
UConn is not the team we expected them to be this season, but this is still an extremely talented basketball team that, eventually, is going to turn this thing around. With Georgetown's recent struggles, they seemed like a perfect victim to be the catalyst of change for the Huskies.
But thanks to the play of Sims and Thompson in the second half, the Hoyas were able to send UConn back to Storrs with their fourth straight loss.