During his prime, Jack Nicklaus was famously described as playing a game with which the rest of the golf world was unfamiliar. Tonight at FedExForum — and in front of a national TV audience — the Georgetown Hoyas played a brand of basketball with which the Memphis Tigers haven’t been acquainted in some time. If there are indeed eight teams in the country better than Georgetown, be glad none of them are on the remainder of the U of M schedule.
A young man by the name of Henry Sims dished out five assists for Georgetown in 17 minutes of play, more than any Tiger on the floor (or any other Hoya, for that matter). Sims is Georgetown’s backup center.
John Thompson has built a team with experience, size, and depth, three areas the Tigers must address if they are to compete beyond the confines of Conference USA. And Josh Pastner recognizes it. “Georgetown executed. When a team shoots 57 percent, it’s hard to beat them,” said Pastner after the game. “We have to stay together, no finger-pointing. There are going to be peaks and valleys. We have to be patient. This is normal. As we get into January, we have to see some signs. This was an experienced team, and the way to beat experienced teams is by hanging your hat on defense. I thought we had opportunities, but we just kept missing short shots, a lot of layups.”
The Tigers received an energy boost when junior Wesley Witherspoon not only suited up, but started the game, merely two weeks after knee surgery that was originally believed to sideline him more than a month. Witherspoon started in place of freshman Tarik Black, who has experienced flu-like symptoms and required an I.V. at halftime. (Black managed to hit five of six shots in just nine minutes on the floor.) Despite having practiced well for two days, Witherspoon’s play was rocky at best: one of five from the field with three rebounds and three turnovers in 19 minutes.
Hoya swingman Austin Freeman — the preseason pick for Big East Player of the Year — scored a game-high 24 points on 9 of 12 shooting. As a measure of Freeman’s total impact, consider the Tiger assigned to guard him for much of the game — Charles Carmouche — went scoreless in 21 minutes on the floor. Fellow senior Chris Wright added 19 points for Georgetown while senior forward Julian Vaughn scored 15 and grabbed 10 rebounds. What was a four-point Hoya lead at the half became a 13-point cushion less than seven minutes into the second half.
“This is my last year, and I do not want to lose, ever,” said Tiger senior Will Coleman after the game. “You could tell who was the veteran team. It’s nothing against my guys; they do what they can to grind it out. But they stay sound, poised.” Coleman scored 12 points and pulled down six rebounds, and offered direction for his teammates as the season moved toward the new year.
“You can’t get razzled,” he said. “You can’t get your feathers flustered. You gotta make sure you keep your head, and don’t get frustrated. Don’t be lazy. Don’t go home and sit on the couch [for the holidays.] I’m pretty sure everyone here was ‘the man’ in high school, so they shouldn’t have much trouble finding a gym.”
Will Barton led the Tigers in scoring with 18 points (seven for 17) and rebounds with seven. Point guard Joe Jackson had an especially tough night against Georgetown’s veteran guards, missing seven of eight shots and turning the ball over four times.
“I’m disappointed,” said Pastner, “because in the preseason I thought we had the chance to be a tremendous team shooting the ball. There’s a lot of basketball to be played, though. We gotta stay upbeat.”
The 16th-ranked Tigers will now get a three-day break for the holidays and a full week before their next game (against Lipscomb at FEF on December 30th). “Losing’s the worst,” said Pastner. “It should stink to them. I don’t think anyone will take a loss harder than the head coach, but I want it to sink in. I don’t want them to get used to losing. They should hurt, because I know I’m miserable.”