Coming off of RU's very tough and disappointing loss to South Florida on Wednesday night, there was undoubtedly not much of a feeling of confidence or optimism amongst the RU faithful heading into this game. After earlier losses to MAAC teams St. Peter's and Rider, and then fresh on the heels of their second-half meltdown against USF, a visit from the 7th ranked team in the country probably invoked a feeling of dread in many Rutgers fans.
The evidence seemed to indicate that something of the sort was in the air. For one thing, the atmosphere inside the RAC was decidedly different than what one might normally expect. There appeared to be at least as many Georgetown fans in attendance as there were Rutgers fans, and to hear so many people erupt into cheers when the Hoyas took the court almost made it seem as if RU was playing on the road. This only added to the feeling that the struggling Scarlet Knights would be in for a long, painful, and potentially embarrassing afternoon.
However, the game did not unfold that way. Hamady Ndiaye scored the games first two points on a dunk, and after the Hoyas came back to take a 5-2 lead on a three-pointer by Jessie Sapp and a basket by Roy Hibbert, Earl Pettis (who once again started in place of JR Inman) scored two consecutive baskets, and then Mike Coburn added another, to give Rutgers an 8-5 lead. Jonathan Wallace then drained a three-pointer to tie it at 8-8. At that point, with the score tied, Inman, along with Byron Joynes, entered the game at the 14:32 mark.
JR wasted no time making his presence felt, following a Joynes miss with a put-back dunk, and then hitting a three to push RU's lead to 13-8. At that point, although it was still quite early, one began to get the feeling that this game might not turn into a Georgetown romp after all. Corey Chandler would enter the game at approximately the nine minute in the half, seeing his first action since the North Carolina game on December, 16th. Chandler's return further added to the adrenaline rush, as although it was certainly a welcome sight to see the gifted freshman back on the court, it was difficult not to wince every time his foot pounded the court.
The first half turned out to be a nip and tuck affair, with two ties and seven lead changes. RU received a tough blow right as the half ended, though. Trailing Georgetown 24-20, and with just seconds left on the clock, Wallace would strike from deep again, nailing a three literally right at the buzzer to send the Hoyas into intermission with a 27-20 lead. This was one of those games where moments like that would loom large, and the second half was in many ways more of the same.
Rutgers played very good defense in this game, but the Hoyas, a Final Four team last year, simply had too many weapons. RU was able to hold the 7'2 Hibbert, a future NBA first-round draft pick, to just six points and four rebounds, but is was from beyond the arc where Georgetown did their most significant damage. The aforementioned Wallace would take one more three in the second half, and he was good on that one, too. Patrick Ewing, Jr. was also perfect from there as well, nailing both of his attempts, and for the game the Hoyas hit eleven of the twenty three treys they attempted - and that's thirty three points, more than half their total.
It's indeed indicative of just how talented and well-coached the Hoyas are that RU could out-rebound them 43-26, hold Hibbert to the game he had (although he was his naturally imposing presence on defense, and did block three shots), and still lose by twelve points. Rutgers hung tough throughout the second half, and although there were moments when it seemed that Georgetown might start to blow it open, RU never let that happen. Georgetown's biggest lead was 17 points at the 10:14 mark of the second half, but Rutgers kept battling.
Still, it's hard not to get a feeling that if RU had just shot a little better, they might have been able to do more than just hang tough - they might have actually been to win this game. Said RU head coach Fred Hill: "Georgetown is a very good defensive team, and there is a reason why they're holding people to 35, 36 percent shooting, but I've got to be honest with you we missed dunks, we missed lay-ups, we missed free throws. We did everything that we needed to do to win the game, but the ball wouldn't go in the hole. It sounds like a broken record, but right now that's the thing we struggle with".
The stats certainly seem to bear him out: RU was 19 for 61 from the field (just 31.1%), just 4 of 12 from three (33'3%), and 4 of 9 at the free throw line. The free throw woes are of particular note when one considers RU made just 1 of 8 attempts against South Florida. That's now just 5 out of 17 attempts made in their last two games (and Rashod Kent isn't even on the team anymore!).
Hill went on: "Tonight Corey didn't shoot the ball well, but he gives you that little injection of quickness and athleticism and that ability to break people down and get other people shots to make it easier but I don't think we could've gotten any easier shots. It just seems to be one of those things that gets in your head, and that's what I was concerned with. You start off the game against South Florida with a 94% free throw shooter, and he misses two - I don't know what you say. What do you do?".
He continued, saying that "Here we had a possession where we had our leading scorer fouled and he misses two free throws, and we get the offensive rebound and we miss a wide-open 10-foot jumper. Then on the next possession we get fouled, and miss the free throws to start that possession. That's points that you're leaving at the line, points that you're leaving out there. You can't do that. Give credit to Georgetown, they're a great team, they have great weapons, they're a great defensive club, but we did everything that we needed to do to win the game, but the ball wouldn't go in".