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

In First Chance to Shine, Monroe Answers Bell

One year into his college career and Greg Monroe gets it. Or at least he’s starting to.After wasting his rookie season dishing the ball in late-game situations, Monroe finally took charge, driving down the right side of the basket for the game-winning basket in Georgetown’s 46-45 win over Temple. Monroe had to pay attention all preseason long as the media peppered him and his teammates with questions about why the Hoyas couldn’t get the job done in late-game situations last season. On Tuesday, after finally winning a tight game down the stretch, Monroe once again answered a reporter’s question on the topic.

“After the season and coming back this summer, I think it was definitely evident that’s all people would talk about – finishing,” Monroe said. “Every day in practice and workouts in the summer, everything was about finishing and finishing games and the different things we need to do as a team to win games like this. So I think it was something that the whole team and the coaching staff were emphasizing and we’ve been working on.”

If Monroe is finally coming into his own, one might ask, then why would the nationally ranked Hoyas need two late-game possessions to put away an Atlantic 10 team?

First, don’t sell Temple or the A-10 short. Temple has made two consecutive NCAA tournaments and is not unfamiliar with an early-season upset over a ranked opponent. The Owls, who annually contend with Villanova for Big 5 titles in Philadelphia, did it last year with a win over Tennessee. With the Hoyas returning home after a late-night finish in New Orleans on Friday, the setting was ripe for an upset. This was like playing the dreaded Saturday to Thursday turnaround in college football, and it’s even worse early in the season against non-conference opponents. Plus, while the Owls may have lost super-scorer Dionte Christmas, they returned Ryan Brooks and the big-bodied and athletic Lavoy Allen.

At 6-foot-9, Allen is a capable offensive player – he led Temple with 12 points – but where he really shines is on the defensive side. In fact, Temple Head Coach Fran Dunphy ranked Allen up there with the top defenders he’s ever coached – that says a lot from a former Ivy League coach who also inherited players from the defensive-minded – dare we say guru – John Chaney.

“He’s the best position defender I may have ever coached, to be honest with you,” Dunphy said. “He’s always in position and he does a terrific job.”

Throughout the game, Allen made Monroe work for every shot he got, shading him to his dominant left and bodying up on the low block. Monroe got his fair share of touches in the first half – he took five shots from the field – but Allen forced him into tough shots, causing him to go 1-for-5 from the floor with two points. Every time Monroe went up for a shot it seemed like Allen was there, bodying up with the occasional help defender doubling down, wreaking havoc on the Georgetown sophomore’s game. It didn’t help that the Hoyas shot a woeful 10 percent from beyond the arc in the first half, allowing the Temple man-to-man defense to play soft on the outside, letting players crash on Monroe if necessary.

Then there’s the question of why Monroe, a 6-foot-11 center, insists on roaming near the top of the key or at the elbow, instead of down on the block. Well, if it was a pickup game, Monroe claims that his preference would be the block, but it’s not a pickup game and the Hoyas have an offense to run.

“[It] depends on who’s guarding him,” John Thompson III interjected following Tuesday’s game, when Monroe was asked his preference – elbow or block.

Thompson’s Princeton offense – if we are going to refer to it in that manner, despite its marked difference from the original, and the coach’s refusal to term it as such – relies on motion and reads. If given the matchup, Monroe and Thompson would both love to see the big guy down low, but the offense is predicated on backdoor cuts from the wing and give-and-gos between the guards and center. The offense rarely stops moving, and by bringing Monroe to the top of the key it opens up all sorts of passing and cutting lanes for the Hoyas.

It’s no coincidence that Thompson’s two marquee recruits to play center in this offense were Vernon Macklin and Monroe. Roy Hibbert had a nice career, but the slow-footed big man is not the prototype Thompson is looking for in his big man recruits. He wants the athleticism of a Macklin or Monroe, who can play with just as much ease at the top of the key as under the boards in the paint, and has the quickness to get from one to the other in a hurry.

This brings us back to the end of Tuesday’s game. For the second time in as many contests, Monroe overcame a slow, almost anemic first half and came out strong in the second half. Despite his woeful first-half shooting, Monroe managed to go 3-of-5 from the floor in the second half to finish with 11 points.

In fact, if you were to pick three key plays that spurred the Hoyas to victory, you would obviously be hard-pressed to look over Monroe’s game-winner, but his three-point play to stem Temple’s 24-6 second-half run and get it back to a one possession game was a momentum-changer. As Monroe sat on the floor following the make-and-foul, giving the “and 1” signal as the crowd erupted, it was hard not to think that he might be taking over the game.

The Hoyas had two chances coming out of time outs in the final 60 seconds that ended with two vastly different results. The first chance, with 55 seconds to play, summed up every complaint about Georgetown and Monroe last season. Jason Clark inbounded to Chris Wright and the Hoyas spent the next 30 seconds rotating the ball around the three-point line in a cruel version of around-the-world, with Monroe never threatening to get in position to make a play. A pull-up three by Wright as the shot clock wound down was no good and the Hoyas gave the ball back to the Owls.

With another opportunity coming out of a timeout with 17 seconds to go, Monroe finally got it: the ball, his role, everything. He took the ball on the right elbow and faced the basket. For a painful five seconds the crowd watched as Monroe looked as if he didn’t know what to do, but he wasn’t hesitating, he was running through his progressions.

First he had Austin Freeman on a backdoor cut, but the Owls blocked it off. Then he checked out Clark who was supposed to go to the “double-elbow,” as Thompson III described it. Again the Owls were all over it, leaving Monroe one-on-one with Allen, with only his right hand to save the Hoyas. Gone was last year’s forced kickouts for ill-advised threes by teammates, replaced instead by Monroe’s silky smooth drive down the right side, with his non-dominant right hand, and a primetime layup in traffic to win the game.

onroe had gotten it. He had realized that he’s the Hoyas’ go-to guy and if they want to win tight games, he needs to be special.

“It’s game two. We have a long way to go, and our guys know that,” Thompson said. “But for us to be able to maintain our poise and composure shows growth. Ugly or not, to make the plays at both ends of the floor to win that game, that’s a good feeling.”

Thompson’s right; it is early in the season and if last year proved anything, it’s that November doesn’t necessarily predict March success. Except in a game where the Hoyas needed Greg Monroe to step up and be the player he can be, he did. He got it. Now we’ll see if he can keep it.

Ryan Travers is a senior in the College. He can be reached at Illegal Procedure appears in every Friday issue of Hoya Sports.”

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