By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 10, 2006
NEW YORK, March 9 -- There was little chance that the Big East tournament quarterfinal between Georgetown and Marquette was going to match the excitement and electricity of the game that immediately preceded it Thursday afternoon in Madison Square Garden. Syracuse vs. Connecticut is a storied Big East rivalry; Georgetown-Marquette is too new to be a rivalry.
The Hoyas held on for a 62-59 victory over Marquette, one of five teams that joined the Big East from Conference USA, and sent the last remaining conference newcomer home. As a result, the fifth-seeded Hoyas (21-8) are in the Big East semifinals for the first time since 2000.
Georgetown's victory, coupled with ninth-seeded Syracuse's upset of top-seeded and top-ranked Connecticut in the first game, sets up a classic semifinal matchup in the new-look Big East. Georgetown and Syracuse, two of the founding members of the conference, have met 11 times in the Big East tournament, with the Hoyas winning six games.
"It's Georgetown-Syracuse in the Garden," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. "That says it all if anybody knows anything about the history of this league."
The Hoyas nearly lost their spot in the semifinals with a shaky final 30 seconds. Georgetown led 58-50, but the fourth-seeded Golden Eagles (20-10) forced a turnover (the Hoyas were unable to inbound the ball against the press), forced a jump ball and scored six straight points to close the gap. Georgetown senior forward Brandon Bowman made four free throws in the final 11 seconds to help the Hoyas hold on.
"We have to tighten up a few things," said Thompson, whose team had some scares closing out victories over Duke, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh earlier in the year. "A couple times with the press they got some key turnovers. It happens."
Thursday's game played out much differently than the first meeting between the teams, a 57-51 Marquette win in mid-February. Georgetown center Roy Hibbert was dominant in the first game, but he wasn't a factor this time as Thompson opted for a smaller lineup for much of the game. Sophomore forward Jeff Green, who had his worst game of his career in Milwaukee, was especially effective, scoring 16 points and adding five assists.
Green had two emphatic dunks midway through the first half as the Hoyas were recovering from another slow start; he scored in the lane and he spun by defenders. When Marquette switched to a man-to-man defense midway through the second half, Green fed his teammates for easy layups off of backdoor cuts.
"We were putting the ball in the hole today," said Bowman, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half. "We hit some key shots down towards the end, kind of stretched the zone a little bit. We let Jeff go to work down there. By stretching it out, by keeping everyone else on the outside, you know, Jeff got some good post moves down there. It made him go. After that, it's pretty much what we do: backdoor cuts, you know, hit threes."
Georgetown held Marquette to just 40 percent shooting, and freshman guard Dominic James, the Big East rookie of the year, missed 13 of his 15 shots. Senior forward Steve Novak, the Big East's top three-point shooter, made 6 of 9 shots from beyond the arc to finish with a game-high 18 points.
But Novak wasn't a factor for much of the second half, as the Hoyas did a good job of limiting his touches. Novak took only four shots in the second half, but he made three three-pointers in the final 5 minutes 10 seconds, including one with just 5.6 seconds to play that brought Marquette to within one point, 60-59.
Novak fouled out immediately following that shot and -- luckily for the Hoyas -- wasn't on the court when the Golden Eagles needed a three-pointer that would have sent the game into overtime. Instead, freshman Jerel McNeal took the final shot, and his three-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the rim.
"We try to be attentive to where he was, we try to make sure we're jumping out and switching out hard on him," Thompson said of Novak. "If you relax for just a second, it doesn't matter where he is on the floor, it's going in. We do a good job for 16 minutes and then all of a sudden for four he goes off. That's what good players do."
As for the Hoyas' good players, they're starting to come together as they try to get Georgetown to the Big East final for the first time since 1996. Senior guard Ashanti Cook scored 16 points and was 2 for 3 from three-point range.
Bowman, for the second straight game, did the little things that help a team win, such as deflect passes, pick up loose balls and rebound (seven). Green, who played just seven minutes in the second half of Wednesday's win over Notre Dame, had nine rebounds and two blocked shots -- including one particularly impressive one in which he ran down the speedy James on a fast break and sent him sprawling to the ground.
"It's really great," Bowman said. "This is the time where you play. You win your last game, you keep playing. The coaches have emphasized so much that this is March, this is the time when you win. . . . All of us are excited about what we're doing, and we're not going to pass this up."