Georgetown's defense sparks Hoyas' win streak

Georgetown's defense sparks Hoyas' win streak
February 14, 2011, 1:52 am
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Sunday, February 13, 2011, 8:56 p.m., updated 11:04 p.m.

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By Benjamin Standig
CSNwashington.comThe brand of basketball at Georgetown under John Thompson III has been largely defined nationally by its often exquisite execution of the Princeton motion offense. During the bulk of the Hoyas' now eight-game winning streak, visual and statistical evidence suggests it's time for their defense to start taking bows as well.

The televised highlights of the No. 11 Hoyas' 69-60 win over Marquette on Sunday afternoon will surely focus on Chris Wright knocking down five 3-pointers, Austin Freeman returning from a first-half ankle injury to finish with 17 points and Georgetown moving into sole possession of third place in the brutal Big East conference. Missing 20 of 27 three-pointers will likely be glossed over and the overall defensive performance defined by perhaps a single steal or deflected pass.

But as they did at Syracuse on Wednesday, the Hoyas aggressively held a creative opposition without a basket for a lengthy and late stretch of time.In turn they cobbled together enough scores of their own to take control. For the sixth straight game, they limited a potent offense to far under its usual shooting percentage.

The genesis of this defensive re-emphasis circles back to the middle of January, when the Hoyas had a week break after eking out a two-game sweep over the Big East's Jersey schools, which came following their rough 1-4 start within the conference.

Despite the wins over Rutgers and Seton Hall, Georgetown allowed a combined 78 points in the paint. That sieve-like effort came after Pittsburgh, the last team to take down the Hoyas, scored all but one of its second-half baskets inside. Even if the Hoyas kept up their high-efficiency offense -- they rank second in the country in shooting percentage -- that type of defensive performance was not going to cut it, not in the Big East at least.

In recent weeks, right through Sunday's post-game news conference, Thompson has routinely stressed that each player needs to be more accountable for his individual assignment rather than simply relying on team defense.

"I think our defense has been better," Thompson said. I think it's a simple as guys understand now that it is personal. We can sit here and talk about schemes and systems, man or zone, but at the end of the day, you have to guard somebody. The guy is in front of you, you have to guard him, you have to stop him and during that your teammates will have your support."

That is exactly what has transpired. In the past six games, the feet have moved quicker, the hands more active as the Hoyas have held teams to a combined 38 percent from the field."We take it personal," said Wright, who sank 5-of-9 from beyond the arc and led with 20 points while also taking his turns harassing Marquette's leading scorer, Darius Johnson-Odom. "You want to go out there and defend. You don't want to get scored on."

Yes, Marquette bulled its way to 22 first half points in the paint, grabbed six offensive rebounds and shot 46 percent from the field before halftime. That production allowed it to establish a 35-31 advantage heading into the locker room. But the Hoyas defense began to tighten, and the second-best shooting team in the conference began to miss.

After Dwight Buycks' jumper pulled the gutty Golden Eagles to 50-49 with 7:34 remaining, the Hoyas separated themselves with a 9-1 run over the next four-plus minutes.

In that decisive stretch, they assertivelyforced two turnovers and the Golden Eagles missed four straight shots to give Georgetown a comfortable working margin. As close as three points and downfive with 59 seconds left but under intense defensive pressure, Marquette misfired on its final four shot attempts.

"We scrapped," Thompson said. "They were making the hustle plays in the first half. In the second half, I thought we did."

Over those final 20 minutes, the Hoyas held the Golden Eagles, the Big East's top-scoring team, to 32 percent shooting and overall to 18 points below their scoring average. The Big East's seventh leading scorer, Johnson-Odom finished with17 points, but failed to make a field goal for over 12 minutes in the second half. "For a while there I think we kind of got him off rhythm, largely in part to our defense and schemes," Wright said. "He was kind of hesitant. It worked out to our benefit."This edition of Georgetown basketball will likely never be ultimately defined by the work it does on the so-called other end of the court, but as it currently stands, there is no reason to get defensive aboutits effort either. Quite the opposite.Notes: With 20 points, Wright (1,316 points) moved past Bill Martin (1,308) for 20th place on the Hoyas all-time scoring list.After scoring17 of his own, Freeman needs 15 points to move past Derrick Jackson and into ninth place.