Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III is very much a creature of habit, so when he chose to break from his custom and give an opening statement in the press room following Georgetown’s 75-71 loss to Syracuse, it was clear he had something on his mind.
“Normally I come in here and the first thing I say is, `Questions,'” Thompson said. “I’m proud of our guys. Losing is hell and after a loss there is nothing but misery and pain, and there is misery and pain right now. But I’m proud of how our guys responded, and . this program, this team does not believe in moral victories, but I’m just proud of our guys. I think [Syracuse] is a very good team that played very well tonight. We dug a hole for ourselves and fought and had a shot to win, but that’s the way the ball bounces.”
After getting down by 23 and nearly getting run off the court in the first 30 minutes, the Hoyas stormed back, grabbing loose balls, rebounds and making tough baskets. Unfortunately, as has been a trend in close games this season, when it needed a big shot from the field or at the line at the end, Georgetown couldn’t find it.
The Hoyas are now 2-5 in games decided by five points or less.
After looking confused against the Syracuse 2-3 zone in their meeting in January, the Hoyas attacked the zone with a purpose, replacing perimeter rotations at the Dome with entry passes and tough penetration in the seams at Verizon Center.
“We played them the first time and spent too much time on the perimeter,” Thompson said. “This time off of penetration and off throwing it in we got the ball in both halves into the meat of their zone. We just got some unlucky bounces.”
The Hoyas had 10 turnovers, which was a departure from their 19 up north, and while they shot a below-average 38.5 percent from the field, they were able to take 65 shots from the field, which was better than the 49 they managed at the Dome on limited possessions. Even rebounding, which the long Orange frontcourt dominated the first time, was split between the two squads, 35-35.
After coming back on Connecticut for a win and coming close on Thursday, there is no denying the Hoyas refuse to give up no matter the circumstances.
“One thing about this team, we believe in each other,” said Chris Wright, who had 20 points. “We believe in perseverance and climbing out of any struggle.”
The effort was certainly there, and while Thompson is correct in admiring his team for its fight, it is hard not to look past that fight and zero in on the end of the game, when the Hoyas let a bunch of chances to take the lead slip through their fingers.
The Hoyas had the effort, but when it counted, Syracuse had the poise.
After junior guard Austin Freeman took lift off from somewhere around Pennsylvania Avenue for a slam to cut the lead to two at 67-65 with 3:13 to play, Verizon Center was rocking, and the Hoyas looked to be on the brink of the most improbable of comebacks.
A defensive lapse on the next possession led to two points from Kris Joseph on a nice move along the baseline, which silenced the crowd.
Nothing showcased the Hoyas’ effort and their poise problems as much as sophomore center Greg Monroe’s trip to the line with 2:36 to play.
onroe, who was 7-of-8 from the free-throw line in the first half, missed two free throws with a chance to cut the lead to two points, but he was able to get the rebound on the floor and call timeout.
Then, down one with 1:10 to play and with the back end of a trip to the line and a chance to tie the game before him, Monroe, who went 1-of-6 from the line in the second half, clanked it out.
The Hoyas went 16-of-24 from the line on the night – 7-of-14 in the second half -and have shot just 65 percent from the line in their seven losses. Syracuse went a cool 27-of-30 from the line.
“We made our free-throws,” said Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim, whose team is undefeated on the road. “The reason we’ve played well on the road is we’ve made key free throws down the stretch.”
A wide open look for three for Clark, on a possession when the Hoyas searched for a way into Monroe, fell short, giving the ball back to the Orange with 42 seconds to play.
Just as against Rutgers on Sunday, a key defensive possession with under a minute to play resulted in a huge basket, as Joseph took Monroe – who had four fouls – to the hole on an isolation play for a layup with nine seconds to play.
“I thought Kris [Joseph] made two great plays at the end, and then we wanted to foul with less than 10 seconds, get the ball into Andy [Rautins] and he’s going to make free throws down the stretch,” Boeheim said.
With Syracuse leading by three, Rautins smartly fouled Clark after the inbounds to send him to the line with the chance to make it a one-point game. Clark’s first was no good, letting Rautins ice the game from the line, which he did with two free-throws, putting the Orange up 75-71 with five seconds to play.
“We made good plays at the end of the game,” Boeheim said. “The difference in this league, you know we’re 12-2. If we didn’t make the plays at the end of three games, we’d be 9-5, and it would be very easy to be there. These kids, they’ve made plays when they had to, and that’s why we’re where we
That was the difference in the game. While the Hoyas played hard, they didn’t make plays at the very end. While Syracuse seemingly tried to lose the game from the 12-minute mark on, the Orange made the crucial plays at the line and from the field at the end to survive with a win.
Having dropped two in a row, the Hoyas head to hostile Freedom Hall on Tuesday to face Louisville, where they’ll need to match their effort and heart with poise if they have any hope of finishing in the top four of the Big East.
Ryan Travers is a senior in the College and a former Sports Editor at THE HOYA. Follow him on [Twitter](https://twitter.com/illprocedure). He can be reached at traversthehoya.com. Illegal Procedure appears in every Friday issue of HOYA SPORTS.”