By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
SYRACUSE, N.Y., Feb. 26 -- Syracuse's students started creeping toward the court inside the Carrier Dome with nearly two minutes left in Monday night's game against ninth-ranked Georgetown, snapping pictures with their cellphones and screaming "Overrated!" at the first-place team in the Big East.
As the final seconds ran off the clock in the Orange's 72-58 victory, the Hoyas, having just played their worst game of the season, quickly and somberly headed to the locker room to avoid the fans storming onto the court.
There is always plenty of drama when these longtime Big East rivals play, and Monday's game -- a physical, emotionally charged battle -- was no exception, because both teams had plenty at stake. The Hoyas (22-6, 12-3) were coming off of their biggest win of the season, a home victory over Pittsburgh, and had a chance to clinch at least a share of the regular season title and the top seed in the conference tournament. The Orange (21-8, 10-5) wanted to get a big victory to help its case for an NCAA tournament bid.
Syracuse ended Georgetown's 11-game winning streak, which began on Jan. 17. Coach John Thompson III was asked if it was nice to have the streak -- which tied the longest conference winning streak in program history -- over with, so the team could focus on different things.
"It's not nice to lose," said Thompson, who was one of four to receive a technical foul (Georgetown's Tyler Crawford and Syracuse's Paul Harris and Eric Devendorf were the others). "It's not nice to lose having played poorly. Sometimes you sit up here and say we fought, we toughed it out, but we ended up with less points. But tonight we had maybe our worst night of the year."
The Hoyas, who entered as the second-best shooting team in the country (52.3 percent), made only 17 of 57 shots -- 29.8 percent -- easily their worst showing of the season (previous low: 41.5 percent against Hartford in the season opener) and their lowest ever under Thompson. In the second half, they were a woeful 6 for 30. Credit should go to Syracuse's zone defense, but at the same time, the Hoyas got -- and missed -- some good shots, particularly inside.
"For large stretches, we got the looks but the ball didn't go in," Thompson said. "You can't miss some of those shots on the road."
Georgetown's inside tandem of forward Jeff Green and center Roy Hibbert -- two juniors who had been so instrumental in the Hoyas' recent run -- combined for just 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting. Green, who earlier in the day was named Big East player of the week for the second consecutive week, was 3 for 13 and had nine points and four turnovers.
Syracuse senior forward Demetrius Nichols, the Big East's leading scorer and one of Green's biggest challengers for conference player of the year, had a game-high 22 points and came up especially big as the Orange took control of the game. Nichols -- who was serenaded with chants of "MVP" by the student section, the same cheer that Green received on Saturday at Verizon Center -- was 3 for 4 from beyond the arc in the second half, and made tough, contested shots.
"Demetrius, when he gets his good looks, he's shooting as well as anybody in the country," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, whose team became only the fourth to score at least 70 points against Georgetown this season. "We had to get him better shots, that's all.
"Once he makes a couple, then he can make the tough ones. . . . They're a tremendous defensive team, and for us to play that well, I don't know how many teams have scored more than 70 points against them. Not too many, I'm sure, and not too many lately."
Georgetown led, 44-43, with 11 minutes 58 seconds left, but they made only three field goals the rest of the way (two of which came in the final minute). The Hoyas missed shots that they normally make, such as Green's pull-up jumper that came up short, barely bouncing off the front of the rim.
Meantime, Syracuse made four straight three-pointers, two apiece from sophomore Andy Rautins and Nichols. After Darryl Watkins bulled his way past Hibbert for a layup, the Orange led by 61-46 and were on its way to the win.