Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

MEN’S BASKETBALL | Week Off Gave Georgetown New Life

MARISSA AMENDOLIA/THE HOYA Chris Wright, shown here at Villanova, has helped the Hoyas to five straight wins.
Chris Wright, shown here at Villanova, has helped the Hoyas to five straight wins.

“Make shots and guard your guy,” Head Coach John Thompson III likes to say.

Those two staples of basketball propelled the Hoyas out of the gate, then plagued them and now have them back on track.

But following their narrow 80-75 win over Seton Hall in New Jersey two weeks ago, the Hoyas’ season appeared to be at a crossroads.

Georgetown had answered its 1-4 Big East start with consecutive road wins, but the Hoyas still looked like a team destined for conference mediocrity. Struggling on defense, they were staring at a difficult string of games, including St. John’s — who they had already lost to — as well as Villanova, Louisville, Syracuse and Connecticut.

Arriving in D.C. during the early hours of Jan. 19 after defeating the Pirates, the Hoyas caught a break: They had seven days before that Big East storm was due to hit.

Fast forward to today, and that same Georgetown team (17-5, 6-4 Big East) has won five straight games, their streak fueled by renewed pride in playing lockdown man-to-man defense that has its roots in the week of practice before the Hoyas’ 77-52 thrashing of the Johnnies.

“[The week] gave us time to sit back, analyze everything, refocus on a couple of different areas,” said Thompson, who also inserted freshman forward Nate Lubick into the starting lineup for the first time against St. John’s. “I think there’s a renewed focus and understanding that you have to guard your man. We can talk about schemes all we want — this zone, that zone, this man — but at the end of the day you have the ball, I’m assigned to you and I’ve got to stop you. We tried to hammer that point home during that time period.”

Prior to the rare weeklong break in their conference schedule, the Hoyas had been deficient in the same areas of the game that had powered them to an 11-1 nonconference record — team defense and shooting. While senior guard Austin Freeman rediscovered his offensive game along the New Jersey Turnpike, Thompson’s players headed into their week off with a lot of room for improvement left on the other end of the floor.

“[The break] was much needed for the team,” Lubick said. “We weren’t hitting a wall or anything like that, but when you get a week off and you get to go back to the basics and work on the fundamentals of everything, the way we do things, [you get] to revisit all those principles of how we started the season and how strong we started.”

“We were able to take a step back,” senior forward Julian Vaughn said. “There was definitely a huge focus in practice on competitiveness and defense, and coach had a lot of drills just testing how competitive you are and just to test your manhood. … Everyone got after it, played really hard, and I think that carried over. I think it was really good for us, and we know what we’ve got to do now.”

Recognizing that they still had plenty of time to get back on track and knowing exactly where they needed to get better, the Hoyas went to work inside McDonough Arena at rekindling the competitive spark needed to play effective man-to-man defense through specific drills.

“We’ve been doing a lot of 3-on-3, just guarding your man — not guarding an offense, but staying in front of your man,” junior guard Jason Clark said. “Guys have been really competing and going hard at each other in practice.”

“The 3-on-3 is basically 1-on-1, and you’ve got to guard your man and stay in front of your man,” explained senior guard Chris Wright, largely responsible for limiting Villanova senior guard Corey Fisher and Louisville senior guard Preston Knowles over the Hoyas’ last two games. “No one wants to get embarrassed in front of teammates or in front of coaches. [Playing defense] has become more personal, and it’s something we try to take pride in.”

Not only have the Hoyas taken noticeable in-game steps in both their man-to-man and matchup zone defenses in the three victories since that week of practice, but they say they’ve also employed a new mental approach to winning games.

“I don’t know how to explain it, but everybody was real focused [during that week] and just wanted to get wins,” said Clark, perhaps the Hoyas’ best perimeter defender. “Everyone was focused on winning and playing hard.”

“In practice we all stepped it up a lot in terms of the intensity,” Lubick added. “Not that we would be joking around [before], but the mood kind of changed around the whole program. It got more intense in terms of everybody making sure they were going to do their job and we were going to get some wins.”

As the rest of the Big East and the country have seen, Georgetown’s defensive improvement has had ripple effects. With wins over St. John’s, Villanova and Louisville as proof, the less their opponents make shots, the less the Hoyas face designed presses and set halfcourt defenses. Freeman and crew are able to spot up around the perimeter or get layups in transition.

“Defense creates offense, so when we’re playing defense like this — [getting] rebounds, steals, blocks — we can get easy runouts and easy baskets, which really hurts the other team and gets the morale up for us,” said Vaughn, who had five rebounds and four blocks against Louisville. “Offense comes and goes. You’re not going to be able to hit shots every day, but you can play hard on defense every day. You can make the right reads and the right transitions every day. It means more to be a good defensive team every day than to be a good offensive team every day.”

Whether at Verizon Center, on the road or in the friendly confines of McDonough, the benefits of Georgetown’s weeklong break between Seton Hall and St. John’s have been obvious. Perhaps Wright best characterized the subsequent shift in the Hoyas’ overall mental approach.

“In order to be a very good defender, you have to have that desire,” he said. “You have to want it.”

Not surprisingly, the key to the Hoyas winning games has been making shots and guarding their guys.


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