Thompson Likes Way Hoyas Are Shaping Up

The Washington Post

Georgetown Coach John Thompson says all Big East Conference games “matter” and “any time you’re into league play it’s important to get a good start, not just in the first game but the first few games.” But he also freely admits: “We haven’t always been able to do that.”

Thus, it should not come as a great surprise that the fifth-ranked Hoyas lost to 10th-ranked Seton Hall, 94-86, Tuesday night in East Rutherford, N.J.

The game was played before 19,761 fans, the largest crowd to see a college basketball game in New Jersey and the largest crowd for a Big East game played at a site other than the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.

The Pirates, who improved their overall record to 13-0 and reached 2-0 in Big East play for the first time, had five players with 12 or more points, led by senior forward Daryll Walker (20 points, career-best 17 rebounds).


Senior swingman Jaren Jackson led the Hoyas (9-1, 0-1) with a game-high 27 points. Freshman center Alonzo Mourning added 18 points, eight rebounds and eight blocked shots.

“Let us not close the casket and put the nails in it and throw the dirt on the grave at this point,” said Thompson, who has insisted since the beginning of the season that the Hoyas are not yet as good as their rankings. “We’ve had too many experiences with this before. ... I saw some very good sparks in some things I wanted done. We lost our concentration in spots at the end, but that happens.”

Particularly early in the Big East season. In the four seasons since Patrick Ewing graduated, Georgetown has lost its first Big East road game three times. And in the three seasons before this one, the Hoyas started Big East play 3-2, 3-2 and 1-3 before ending up 11-5, 12-4 and 9-7.

“We expect to get experience (early in the season),” Thompson said after Tuesday night’s game. “That’s (when) you want to get experience.”

Based on his comments before the game, it is possible that, because of the number of newcomers expected to play key roles, he will be more patient than usual in this regard.

“It’s not just a question of (the newcomers) being good,” he said, “but of the cohesiveness between inside and outside and offense and defense. That’s improving, but it still has to improve an awful lot and you have to be patient.”

It appears his main project this season will be Dikembe Mutombo, the 7-foot-2 sophomore center from Zaire. “I have to find more time for Mutombo,” he said. “I think that’s very difficult because of some of the language barriers, and that definitely has had an effect on his development as a player. (Mutombo’s native language is a French dialect and, while learning English, he also is learning basketball language.)

“But I have to have the courage -- and it’s going to take even more courage now, because you’re getting into the Big East and serious competition -- to get him in the game. If not for a large period of time, at least for some quality time, where he can get a feel for it.”

The sooner Mutombo (two points, one rebound, two blocked shots, two fouls in six minutes on Tuesday night) can ripen, the sooner Georgetown will become immune to two of the few things that can ail Mourning in particular and the Hoyas in general -- foul trouble and zone defenses.

With a team not renowned for its outside-shooting prowess, Thompson said Tuesday night: “When Alonzo is not in the ballgame, it definitely is something that has an effect on us.”

That effect became obvious against Seton Hall when Mourning was replaced after committing his third foul with 14 minutes to play and the Hoyas leading, 59-54.

In the moments before the foul, Mourning had scored on a hook shot and a jumper from the top of the key and blocked a shot to set up Charles Smith’s fast-break layup that gave the Hoyas their largest lead of the game -- 59-50. In the moments after Mourning’s departure, Seton Hall began using a zone defense for virtually the first time this season, moved within 63-60 and forced Thompson to call time out with 12 minutes left.

Mourning re-entered the game after the break, and, after the Pirates tied the score at 63, Georgetown went back in front, 67-63. Seton Hall retied the game at 70 before Mourning again left the game with 8:46 remaining. While he was on the bench, the Pirates outscored Georgetown, 12-6, to take an 82-76 lead and command of the game.