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Thursday, February 18, 2010
Updated: February 20, 1:45 AM ET
Hoyas' heart not enough in the Big East

By Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- They are the evil twins that visit John Thompson III after every loss, the ugly stepsisters that invade his sleep and sour a sunny day.

"Pain and misery."

That's how the Georgetown coach refers to losing.

The Hoyas are enduring a double dose of suffering right now: They were stunned by Rutgers on Sunday and thwarted Thursday by Syracuse, 75-71, in what was nearly an epic comeback.

In most leagues, a two-game losing streak would be a hiccup. In the Big East, it's the difference between living in the penthouse with room service and a free continental breakfast in the lobby.

Georgetown, which once had a comfortable hold on the No. 4 spot and the final double-bye in the conference tourney, now is in the muddied second-tier pack, in sixth place and wedged between Louisville and Marquette.

Rick Jackson and Wesley Johnson
The Syracuse defense was suffocating in the first half, before the Hoyas finally came alive late.

It's not quite sharing a room with your snoring buddy, but it's close.

As the Hoyas shuffled off with their twin cocktails of discontent Thursday night, unable to come all the way back from a 23-point hole, Thompson knew one thing for certain: He'd have to shake the doldrums fast.

"There's no option," he said. "I always give the same answers because that's how I feel. Losing is pain and misery, but we don't have any time to wallow in it, and that's because the next opponent will always be a very good opponent."

For sure, pity-partiers are steamrolled in the Big East, and Georgetown's final slate of games is against Louisville, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Cincinnati.

Or you could call them desperate, more desperate, really good and very desperate.

Two bouts of pain and misery could easily spiral into a chronic case of the blues if the Hoyas aren't careful.

Besides a smart sense of Big East reality, what also gives Thompson hope is how Georgetown finished the game. By this time last year, the Hoyas were a chemically imbalanced mess, a squad that had spiraled from a hot start to mediocrity amid rumors of inner turmoil and strife.

A 23-point lead against that pack of Hoyas would have easily turned into 30 points.

These Hoyas, a team that Chris Wright said "really believes in each other," went into the locker room at halftime down by 13 and thinking they were "really close."

They clearly were the only ones.

Even Jack, the bulldog mascot, couldn't quite demolish the orange box he's supposed to devour as part of a fire-up-the-crowd timeout gig.

"This is what we've done all year, fighting back," said Wright, who finished with 20 points. "We're comfortable coming back. We know we can persevere and climb through any struggle."

Inexplicably, they weren't wrong. Unable to get inside in the first half -- Syracuse took a 14-4 advantage in the paint into the locker room at the break -- the Hoyas turned the game on its ear. They continually forced the ball inside to Greg Monroe, putting Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku in foul trouble and ultimately out of the game. By the final buzzer, Georgetown had outscored Syracuse inside, 34-22. That's a 30-8 swing.

Onuaku joined Jackson on the bench with 2:26 left and Syracuse clinging to a 69-65 lead. Wisely, the Hoyas went directly at DaShonte Riley, a freshman who has played 117 minutes the entire season. Monroe scored two quick buckets and got fouled on a third possession. He hit just one of two at the line but somehow came up with the rebound in a sea of Orange, getting a timeout with 1:07 left and Georgetown down 71-70.

This time, however, the Hoyas couldn't get inside. Jason Clark instead had a good look at a 3-pointer but came up short and after Syracuse corralled the rebound, Kris Joseph, who missed eight of his first 10 shots, scored on a drive to the rim to seal Syracuse's win.

"When you're on the road, you got to keep playing and keep scoring," Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said. "We knew they were going to come back. They came back here against Connecticut, and the reason they did [against the Orange] is because we stopped scoring."

Indeed, the victory reveals as much about Syracuse as the loss does about Georgetown. The Orange, which looked to be playing as flawlessly as anyone in the country two weeks ago, has opened up a few chinks in the armor. They needed to come back against Cincinnati, blew a 16-point lead against Connecticut before winning, and gave up the lead and the win to Louisville.

Certainly there is a reason. Player of the year candidate Wes Johnson has been battling myriad injuries -- he hurt his back on a hard crash to the floor against Providence and his shooting hand against Connecticut. Boeheim said his star player hasn't practiced much lately and, though he played hard and tough, was gassed by the end of the game. Johnson had only two of his 16 points in the second half.

"He was hanging on by a thread," Boeheim said. "But with Rick and Arinze in foul trouble, we really didn't have another option and I figured half of him was better than anything else."

But Boeheim also will be the first to say there are no excuses for anyone at this time of the year, a notion Thompson will second.

Is the Georgetown coach disappointed? Sure. Is he panicking? No. He said there is no panic button on the Georgetown campus -- a wise way of living, since the other option in this conference would be a courtside defibrillator.

"Am I worried about this team?" Thompson said. "Not at all. We'll figure it out."

They have to.

The only other option is more pain and more misery.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.