Saturday night, the Big East will be put to rest with one final championship game at the Garden, such a fitting and electric stage all these years. But Friday night, Georgetown and Syracuse added one final chapter to their own rivalry, a 58-55 overtime victory ground out by the Orange in the semifinals, one that made up for in intensity what it lacked in artistry — which just might be a phrase that appears on the conference’s tombstone.
“This was just a gritty win,” Boeheim said afterward, using another catchphrase for this event over the past 34 years.
The decisive moments also seamlessly fit in with the event’s history. Syracuse established a four-point lead in overtime on C.J. Fair’s vicious putback dunk. But with 14 seconds left, Georgetown had the ball, down just three. With Starks, the point guard, already fouled out, Georgetown drew up a play to set a screen for Otto Porter Jr., the conference’s player of the year, about whom Boeheim said afterward, “He’s the best all-around player I’ve seen in this league.”
Heady praise from the only coach who has worked in every single one of these events. But this Syracuse team, like other Syracuse teams — and, indeed, like this conference — is defined by its defense. So when Porter got the ball on the right wing, the Orange was there with a ferocious double-team. The lithe 6-foot-8 Porter tried to slither through, and couldn’t.
“They played it well,” Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said.
Fair came up with the steal, and the orange-clad in the Garden stands, well aware the Hoyas (25-6) had beaten Syracuse (25-8) twice this year, thundered three decades worth of approval.
Neither team shot 40 percent from the floor. Neither team scored 60 points. And no one would trade what they felt pulsing through the Garden.
“We all kind of saw this coming,” said Syracuse forward James Southerland, one of four Orange players in double figures.
In the moments after, reflection on the rivalry and the tournament was difficult for both sides, because Syracuse has the championship game Saturday night against Louisville — which beat Notre Dame, 69-57, in the late semifinal — and Georgetown has a day off too early. “It hurts,” was the best way Starks could put it, and given how hard the two teams played, that was apparent.