PORTLAND – Golfers, we are told, drive for show and putt for dough.
Basketball players, we were reminded Thursday night, shoot for show and defend for dough if they want to win championships.
Eastern Washington’s splendid season came to a sudden end when the Eagles’ third-ranked offense could not overcome their 324th-ranked defense in an 84-74 loss to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament.
“We needed a really good shooting night to beat them,” Eastern coach Jim Hayford said.
Translation: The Eagles knew Georgetown was going to put up plenty of points, even though the 22nd-ranked Hoyas are usually average on offense. The most surprising aspect of Georgetown’s big night on offense is that so much of the damage came on 3-pointers.
Come to think of it, maybe that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, since the Eagles came into the day ranked 334th out of 345 Division I teams in 3-point shooting defense at 38.5 percent. The Hoyas had been nailing just 34.7 percent of their 3’s this season, but they hit 47.8 percent (11 of 23) at Moda Center, and they made it look easy. Of course, it usually WAS easy.
“We were trying to focus on inside-out defense against them; they can pound it inside,” Eastern star Tyler Harvey said. “We were there, forced the kick-outs (to the perimeter). They were knocking it down. Tall guys shooting it over us. Credit to them.”
More impressively, the Hoyas limited Eastern – one of the busiest and best 3-point shooting teams in the nation – to 9-for-28 shooting (32.1 percent) from beyond the arc.
“That probably needs to be a credit to them for their defense,” Hayford said. “Those are some long guys that you’re shooting over, and they play very smart.
“I give them full credit. We didn’t lose tonight; they beat us.”
Obviously, Hayford handled defeat with class. The same could not be said of Georgetown coach John Thompson III in victory.
Thompson, following the lead of some members of the media, took a fairly innocuous comment Hayford made on radio Wednesday for the benefit of his players listening in on the team bus – “We’re gonna win” – and twisted Hayford’s words into a pretzel.
“He guaranteed victory . . . our guys were fired up about that,” Thompson said.
Hayford wasn’t buying it – “I don’t think that motivated them” – and he paid the Hoyas another compliment.
“They play really hard,” the affable coach said. “I’m glad we were playing basketball. I wouldn’t want to wrestle or play football against them.”
It was hard enough playing basketball against Georgetown (22-10). The Eagles (26-9) played well in spurts – spectacularly on occasion – and most of the surprisingly small crowd of 14,279 (including hundreds of red-clad Eastern fans) was pulling for the underdogs.
Fan support can carry a team only so far. Harvey (27 points, including 6-for-12 shooting on 3’s) and hard-working post Vendy Jois (19 points, eight rebounds) wowed the crowd on occasion. So did Georgetown players like All-Big East Conference guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivers (25 points, eight rebounds, 4-for-7 shooting on 3’s) and little-used 7-footer Bradley Hayes (career highs of eight points and six rebounds in 10 minutes off the bench).
Hayes helped cover for starting center Joshua Smith, the humongous Kent native who recklessly drew fouls early in each half and played seven ineffective minutes. It mattered little on a night when the fourth-seeded Hoyas outrebounded the 13th-seeded Eagles 36-28, had a 19-8 advantage in second-chance points and led 45-21 in points off the bench. Turnovers against the press helped the Eagles cut into a 23-point Georgetown lead in the second half.
“They’re a really big team,” Harvey noted. “We don’t have those kind of teams in the Big Sky (Conference).”
“It’s just a different look,” Jois said.
The look of Eastern’s roster won’t change drastically next season unless – insert gasp here – Harvey doesn’t return. The redshirt junior guard, who leads the nation with 23.1 points per game, said he hasn’t “really thought about” whether he might turn pro. Harvey would have immediate eligibility at another school if he graduated by summer, but the Academic All-America selection just laughed at that idea.
“No,” he said, “I don’t think I’m going to do that.”
NBA draft expert Chad Ford of ESPN ranks Harvey the 48th-best prospect for the 2015 NBA draft. Harvey loves the freedom Hayford provides him in Eastern’s wide-open offense, and Harvey certainly has not forgotten that Eastern was the only school that offered him a basketball scholarship (after he paid for the first year while redshirting).
Thursday’s game served as a reminder to Harvey that it is infinitely easier to pile up points in the Big Sky than in the NBA – or, for that matter, in the NCAA tourney. Still, he scored 27 points on 9-for-20 shooting against a quality defense, the type of defense Eastern will probably never play.
If Harvey returns, however, the Eagles should be great again on offense next season. That might be more than enough to give them a shot at improving on their all-time NCAA tournament record of 0-2.