Beltway Basketball Beat: Georgetown’s nightmare ends. What’s next?

The nightmare is over. Georgetown’s record Big East regular-season losing streak ends at 29 games, thanks to the Hoyas’ 81-76 defeat of DePaul that almost melted in the final minutes (a 12-point lead with 1:39 left shrunk to three).

If you thought it’s been a long time since the Hoyas beat Xavier (March 2, 2021), the final minute of regulation seemed to last an eternity as head coach Patrick Ewing’s team held off a Blue Demons rally.

“It did feel very long. The clock started ticking just bit by bit but I thought the guys fought hard,” Ewing said. “They made the plays they needed to make. They made the free throws that they needed to make. Those are some big free throws Primo [Spears] made.”

Now that there won’t be an o’fer in 2022-23, what’s next for the once-proud program? How much longer does the school’s best-ever player get to try to rebuild things? The team has finished higher than eighth just once in Big East play (2018-19 when they went 9-9 in the league and made the NIT) in his five previous seasons at the helm and a strong second half to conference play will be necessary to avoid that this winter (the win puts them 3.5 games behind Villanova for seventh place).

And while the Ewing era will always have the 2021 Big East Tournament (four wins in four days to qualify for the NCAA’s), that brief shining moment was followed up by last winter’s disaster (0-19 in conference play). This season brought 10 new players to the roster, and it feels as if even before it was easy to transfer that was often the case with players from Mac McClung to James Akinjo departing for greener pastures.

One admires what Ewing wants to build in D.C., but too often it feels as if he’s been trying to construct a sand castle as the tide comes in. Things just haven’t worked out.

What next? The school had to ask that same question six years ago when they fired John Thompson III after the program suffered consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the early 70s and they brought in the man who helped win them a national championship as a player. How much longer he’ll be here is not a question the one-time All-American is looking to answer — the coach is looking at the second half of conference play.

“We have not stopped believing. Sometimes you just need to ‘pop the cork’ or ‘pop the seal’, we popped the seal tonight,” Ewing said. “We have 10 more games to go. So we can get ourselves right back in the hunt. We’re not just happy with this win.”

They play at St. John’s Sunday — one of three games remaining against schools with a losing Big East record. There’s also a stretch of three games in eight days against teams currently ranked. The chase of Big East respectability this winter may seem like an unrealistic dream, but after the last season and a half, the Hoyas can certainly agree on one thing: sometimes the dreams that don’t come true are much better than the nightmares that do. What’s next?

This week’s starting five

Up top: Houston’s 56-55 loss to Temple gives us a new No. 1, and I have Alabama on my ballot instead of Purdue as the Crimson Tide have won all seven of their SEC games by double digits. The Boilermakers, Tennessee, Arizona and Houston round out my top five. Kansas falls from No. 2 to No. 11 after back-to-back losses (including a 23-point loss to TCU). Speaking of the Big 12, does it make sense that six of the 10 schools in the league are in the top 25? Yes, especially when there are only 10 teams in a conference that sports the number 12. Small school shoutouts: Saint Mary’s, Charleston, New Mexico, VCU and Florida Atlantic. Difficult omissions: Providence, Arkansas, Kent State, Duke and Wisconsin.

Going Inside: Maryland (12-7, 3-5 Big Ten) dealt with premiere big men twice in a four-day stretch, holding Hunter Dickinson to 19 points and 10 rebounds while beating Michigan Thursday and allowing Zach Edey 24 points with 16 rebounds in Sunday’s loss at Purdue. The Boilermakers come to Xfinity Center on Feb. 16 and just like head coach Kevin Willard’s team defended Dickinson better in their second meeting, they’ll be better prepared to face the Purdue big man next month. At 3-5 in the Big Ten, the Terps will play three straight and five of seven at home, starting with Wednesday against a Wisconsin team whose Monday night loss at Northwestern was the Badgers’ fourth in five games.

On the Perimeter: Navy (10-10, 3-5 Patriot League) picked up a huge road win at Army Saturday. The 77-71 triumph saw reserve Christian Jones come off the bench to score a career-high 21 points. How under the radar is the senior guard? He’s played 20 games this year which is more than the combined total of his first three seasons with the program. The Mids are the second best 3-point shooting team in the Patriot League and while everyone is chasing first place Colgate (15-7 with a 9-0 conference mark), the gap between the good and the fair is rather small and momentum can turn on a dime (witness American who’s lost four straight after beginning PL play 4-0). The Mids visit last place Bucknell Wednesday before hosting slumping AU Saturday.

Who’s Open: Virginia Tech (12-8, 2-7 ACC) ended a seven game slide by defeating Duke Monday night in Blacksburg. While Grant Basile paced the Hokies with 24 points (on 10 of 15 shooting) with eight rebounds, it was Michael Collins’ jumper with 14 seconds left (plus the free throw as he was fouled) that provided the difference. The Hokies try to exact revenge against Syracuse (they lost by 10 to the Orange on the road) before facing Top 25 teams Miami and Virginia. After that, the sledding gets a little easier with three straight games against ACC bottom feeders Boston College, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech (a combined 5-22 in league play). And with a team that’s getting healthier, a second half of the conference schedule surge wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for head coach Mike Young’s team.

Last Shot: Howard (12-10, 4-1 MEAC) has won four straight (three of those by double digits) and is tied for first place in the conference with Morgan State (whom they beat in D.C. last Saturday) and Maryland-Eastern Shore (who they lost to on the road in their MEAC opener). Since league play began, nobody has shot better (including from 3-point range) or scored more per game than the Bison. HU plays North Carolina Central (tops in the MEAC in scoring defense) Saturday before hosting South Carolina State Monday. After that, they play just twice in Burr Gymnasium over their final seven regular season games.

Dave Preston

Dave has been in the D.C. area for 10 years and in addition to working at WTOP since 2002 has also been on the air at Westwood One/CBS Radio as well as Red Zebra Broadcasting (Redskins Network).

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