BIG EAST | FINAL
They're Above It All
Sunday, March 11, 2007
NEW YORK, March 10 -- Jeff Green stood at the foul line with about 90 seconds left in the Big East tournament final Saturday night, and prepared to shoot a free throw that would have no impact on the final outcome. Top-seeded Georgetown was well on its way to a dominating 65-42 victory over third-seeded Pittsburgh.
As Green left for a substitute after his shot fell through the net, Coach John Thompson III -- often so controlled emotionally -- stood on the sideline with a broad grin, his arms open wide to welcome the player who dominated the tournament. He wrapped Green in a hug, as the Georgetown fans at sold-out Madison Square Garden celebrated the program's first Big East tournament title since 1989.
"I needed a hug," Thompson III joked. "That's when it kind of set in, just how special this is, just how special the performance he turned in all week is, just how special what this team just accomplished is. . . . It's been so few teams that get the opportunity to play in a Big East championship game, let alone teams that win the regular season and win the conference tournament. At that point, it finally settled in with me, 'Hey, we're going to win this thing.' "
Georgetown (26-6) has won seven tournament titles, more than any other school. It became the first program since Connecticut in 2002 to sweep the conference's regular season and tournament titles, a feat that it accomplished in 1984, 1987 and 1989 as well.
As the Hoyas accepted their trophy, their fans chanted, "Six more wins!" -- referring to the number of victories needed to win the NCAA tournament, which will begin this week with Georgetown, which has won 15 of its past 16 games, likely a top two seed.
Green, who scored a game-high 21 points against the Panthers (27-7), won the Dave Gavitt Award, which is presented to the tournament's most outstanding player. Green joins Alonzo Mourning, Charles Smith, Reggie Williams and Patrick Ewing as Hoyas who won both the conference regular season and tournament outstanding player awards. Freshman DaJuan Summers (nine points) and junior center Roy Hibbert (18 points, 11 rebounds) were named to the all-tournament team.
Throughout the week, one Georgetown fan carried a sign that read, "Thompson and Ewing: Sound familiar?" And indeed, it was impossible to watch this year's Georgetown team without thinking back to the elder John Thompson and the first Patrick Ewing. The two men -- who helped build Georgetown into a national power -- were in the stands for all three games, as they became part of the first father-son tandems to coach (Thompsons) and play in (Ewings) a Big East championship game.
"Just to look behind our bench and to see the alumni -- Big John, Big Pat, Jerome Williams, Coach Ronny Thompson -- just to see that and see them proud makes me proud," sophomore guard Jessie Sapp said. "We're following in their footsteps. The legacy continues. It's in good hands. . . . It just shows that we have a lot of heart. That's what the legacy of Georgetown basketball is. Even though we're different players, we have the same heart; we play tough."
That was the quality this current group of players showed throughout the week. They had to hold off a rally from Villanova in the quarterfinals and withstand a down-to-the-wire battle against Notre Dame in the semifinals.
Against Pittsburgh, a team they split with in the regular season, the Hoyas were cruelly efficient, shooting 52.3 percent and holding the Panthers to 26.2 percent shooting and 42 points, a championship game low. Hibbert held fellow 7-footer Aaron Gray, a two-time first-team all-Big East player, to just three points on 1-for-13 shooting.
Georgetown took control with a 13-0 run late in the first half, which turned a two-point game into a 28-13 advantage with 2 minutes 57 seconds left until halftime. The Hoyas missed only one shot during that five-minute run, mainly because their passing and movement resulted in quality shots close to the basket. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, settled for jump shots.
The Hoyas led 32-17 at the break. The closest Pittsburgh got in the second half was 13 points, but guard Jonathan Wallace (nine points) hit back-to-back three-pointers to quash any hopes of a comeback.
It was only fitting that Georgetown was led by its trio of juniors -- Green, Hibbert and Wallace -- on Saturday. They, along with Thompson III, have been the engine behind the Hoyas' turnaround. In 2003-04, the year before they came to Georgetown, the Hoyas won just four conference games and came to New York as the tournament's bottom seed.
Thompson III hugged each junior as they left the court. But he saved his biggest one for Green, who averaged 21 points in the tournament and hit the game-winning shot against Notre Dame.
"With him just standing at the sideline, I was walking towards him and I didn't know if he wanted a hug or a high-five," Green said. "So I just went in for the big hug. It's great to see our coach's reaction like that. But it didn't hit me until the clock struck zero that we won it."