With it, fifth-ranked Georgetown claimed a share of its first Big East regular season title since 2008, locked up the top seed in the upcoming Big East tournament and completed its first sweep of the reviled Orange since 2001.
But even as Georgetown’s students charged onto Verizon Center’s court to celebrate the most one-sided game in the series since January 1985, there was a measure of wistfulness, if not outright regret, in the air.
Despite the longstanding enmity, it’s a breakup no basketball fan, player or coach wanted to see, but one forced by the seemingly insatiable demand for more revenue at elite ranks of college sports.
Syracuse, which joined Georgetown in creating the Big East in 1979, is leaving the league this summer for the ACC and its promise of greater football riches. And Georgetown is breaking away June 30, along with its six compatriots that don’t compete in big-time football, to form a new, basketball-centric league that will repurpose the Big East name.
“I think it’s a damn disgrace,” former Georgetown Coach John Thompson Jr. said afterward of the demise of the league that dominated college basketball in its heyday, minted future NBA all-stars and made himself and Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, among others, Hall of Famers.
“We established something in the Northeast that we all could be proud of, and then a bunch of knuckleheads sat at the table — didn’t know a thing about basketball — and, without any concern for the fans, geographical boundaries, tore it apart,” said Thompson, who watched from his customary perch along the baseline and raised his Georgetown scarf in triumph when the game ended.
He wasn’t the only legend of the rivalry on hand. Former Georgetown center Patrick Ewing, who anchored the 1984 NCAA championship team, watched from a courtside seat across from the Hoyas bench, as did Alonzo Mourning.
“I’m disappointed that Syracuse is going to the ACC, but it’s a business decision for them,” Ewing said before tip-off. “When we were there, the Big East was the premier league. It was not the ACC, not any of those leagues. The Big East was the premier league.”
Drawing a crowd of 20,972, Saturday’s game set an attendance record for a college basketball game in the Washington area. Seats were even sold in the hockey press box at the arena’s upper reaches. Verizon Center rocked and reverberated as it hadn’t all season.
While orange-clad Syracuse fans were relegated to the upper tiers, hand-lettered signs proclaimed the complicated sentiment of the Hoyas faithful.
“Our Hatred Is Eternal,” read the biggest, which spanned two sections in the lower bowl. Another, hoisted by a Georgetown fan closer to the court, declared: “Coach Boeheim: It Will Not Be the Same Without You.”