ON THE ROAD FROM GEORGETOWN

Better late than never? <br> <br> For the past two weeks, I've had the feeling that this Friar team was beginning to pull itself together. Not so much because I wanted them to, but because their recent play has shown that they do, indeed, possess some skills. And, because they have finally figured out how to rebound and play a little defense.

Randall Hanke's emergence has been particularly pleasing to watch, because he has emerged from a cocoon that most freshmen don't even realize they're wrapped in. The broken nose he suffered earlier in the season made a timid player even more reluctant to mix it up… and yet, Hanke had never really been described as "timid" before. After the realization (and words of encouragement from the coaches) that he was playing too cautiously, Hanke began his transformation by focusing on running the floor hard, and going after put-backs. He does both very well, and his long arms are becoming a weapon.

While no one is happy that Dwight Brewington's season has ended, as it turns out, sometimes through adversity a better product is realized. Tuukka Kotti has had the chance to play a more natural position for him – guard. That's where he has played for much of his European career. He is difficult to get around when he plays the top of the 2-3 zone with Donnie McGrath. Jeff Parmer has received minutes where they did not previously exist, and for the most part has taken advantage of Brewington's (and Gerald Brown's) absence. The end result is a better overall defensive effort.

Rob McKiver has also benefited from his teammates' misfortune, but as mentioned in an earlier column, still has a way to go before learning how to play the college game. But the improvement is coming. Recognition, or a lack thereof, on the floor isn't something that's tangible. Most of the time, it's the ability to "see things" that aren't there, or getting a "feel" for the game, that dictates a player's playing time and success. Fluff simply needs to play more, and play harder when he gets into a game. He can't get into a game though, unless he consistently practices harder. It's a catch-22, for now…

The team departed via a commercial flight for Washington, DC on Friday afternoon, and arrived in the Capitol after about an hour delay – the plane they were scheduled to take was coming from Washington, and was delayed getting to Providence. A quiet night at the team hotel was followed by a 10:30 am shoot-around at the MCI Center on Saturday morning, followed by downtime, then a team pre-game meal at 3:00 pm. The pre-game concern was centered on putting pressure on Georgetown's guards, while not allowing Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert to pound the glass.

During pre-game warm-ups, Friar strength coach Kenny White mentioned that his father Matt, a Georgetown graduate, played in the very first game ever between PC and Georgetown, back on January 28th, 1956. The Hoyas won at Alumni Hall 77-51, and the Hoya team stayed in some of the upstairs rooms at Alumni overnight before returning to campus the day following the game. Something tells me we would not be so gracious in this day and age, especially after a spanking like that.

The latest installment in this series was a great game to watch, and a pretty good game to call, too. Green is very talented, and Brandon Bowman is dangerous. Some well-placed long distance daggers kept the Hoyas close throughout, even though the Friars had a decided advantage on the backboards, which was a pleasant surprise. Kotti, Hanke, Herb Hill and Ryan Gomes all battled the offensive glass as well as they have all year. Even though Georgetown shot the ball well, the Friars' defense was consistent. Limiting the Hoyas to one shot on the misses was huge.

As we know, close calls have been the calling card for this Friar team. Positive results have been rare. Maybe the tide is beginning to turn, however, as Gomes got an "and one" with :01.8 left on the clock. He told me afterward that he thought it was his first ever game-winner at the end. With his 26 points for the night, Ryan also clinched the Big East season scoring championship, for overall games as well as conference games played. In the 26-year history of the Big East, only one other Friar has ever led the league in scoring – Eric Murdock.

The team effort speaks to their ability to not give up, even through the tough times and hard falls earlier in the season. The Friars' win was their first in Washington over a Georgetown team in 12 years, snapping a six-game losing skid.

The ride back home on Sunday was calm, and uneventful. The guys were happy, sure…but it was very business-like. They know there is more to do before this season is completed. Right now, these players believe they can play with, and beat, anyone. They will depart for New York Tuesday morning, practice at Iona College that afternoon, and attend a league-sponsored banquet for all of the teams Tuesday night. Madison Square Garden awaits.

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