By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 24, 2007
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 23 -- DaJuan Summers raced over to Jeff Green in the seconds after the final buzzer sounded on second-seeded Georgetown's heart-stopping, 66-65 victory over sixth-seeded Vanderbilt in the East Region semifinals on Friday night, grabbed his older teammate in a bearhug and refused to let go.
Green had just made yet another game-winning shot -- this one coming on a short pull-up bank shot amid three defenders with 2.5 seconds left on the clock -- to put the Hoyas into their first NCAA region final since 1996. Moments earlier, Summers -- the lone freshman in Georgetown's starting lineup -- had committed a foul that led to two free throws by Dan Cage that gave Vanderbilt a one-point lead with 17 seconds left.
The rest of the Hoyas soon swarmed Summers and Green to celebrate the win, in which they fought back from a 13-point first-half deficit and played without 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert down the stretch. Junior co-captain Tyler Crawford ripped off his jersey and held it up to the sellout crowd at Continental Airlines Arena.
"I was just in amazement," said Summers, who had 15 points after scoring a combined 11 points in Georgetown's first two games of the tournament. "I couldn't believe it, I was just happy, so happy for the team because we stuck together. . . . When Jeff hit that last shot, it was just reassuring."
Georgetown (29-6), which is in the round of eight for the eighth time, will face top-seeded North Carolina on Sunday. The Tar Heels defeated fifth-seeded Southern California in the other semifinal, 74-64.
A year ago, at this same stage in the tournament, the Hoyas were left heartbroken following a 57-53 loss to eventual champion Florida, a game that was decided in the final seconds on an improbable twisting shot by Corey Brewer.
"It feels great, just to finally get over that hump," said Green, who had 15 points and three assists. "Tonight [in the final minute], I thought it was shades of Florida. But we kept playing, and we didn't stop."
That was true throughout the game against Vanderbilt (22-12), a team that Georgetown had beaten by 16 points in November. The Commodores made five of their first nine three-point attempts as they built a 27-14 lead with 6 minutes 30 seconds left in the first half. The Hoyas then went on a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to just three, only to have Cage (17 points) hit another three-pointer and then Derrick Byars (17 points) convert a layup off of a backdoor cut -- one of Georgetown's favorite plays.
The Hoyas trailed 32-24 at the break -- the second-largest halftime deficit they had faced this season -- and they seemed a little out of sorts. At one point, Summers was wide open under the basket, but Green's pass was wide and Summers had to go running out of bounds -- leaping over the Vanderbilt cheerleaders -- to save the ball. Crawford punched the padded basket support after being called for his second foul.
"I think that our guys just needed to relax and play basketball," said Coach John Thompson III, whose team shot just 33.3 percent, committed seven turnovers and was called for three charging fouls in the first half. "Collectively, our team is resilient. . . . It might sound crazy, but I think we feel comfortable and we knew we could get back in and we could -- you've heard me say it before -- just methodically take control of the game."
The Hoyas had confidence because they faced almost the exact same situation -- a hot-shooting team, an early deficit, a high-stakes environment -- two weeks ago against Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Big East tournament. Georgetown overcame a 14-point deficit in that game to win on Green's pull-up jumper.
As they fought their way back into the game against Vanderbilt, different Hoyas stepped up at different times. Hibbert, who had only one shot attempt and zero offensive rebounds in the first 20 minutes, was the catalyst in the first four minutes as Georgetown went on a 12-4 run to tie the score at 36. He scored six points -- four of which came on putbacks -- and Summers had two three-pointers.
Hibbert fouled out with 3:58 left in the game; he picked up his final two fouls while setting a screen and defending Byars on a three-point attempt. Byars made two of his three free throws to give Vanderbilt a three-point edge, 60-57.
But Green, the Big East player of the year, slipped in for an offensive rebound, converted the layup, was fouled and made the free throw to tie the score. Patrick Ewing Jr. held his ground as Shan Foster went barreling to the basket, and sophomore guard Jessie Sapp picked up the errant shot and went end to end for a layup. Junior guard Jonathan Wallace calmly made a jump shot on the three-point arc to give Georgetown a 64-61 advantage going into the final minute.
Georgetown led by one and had the ball with 45 seconds on the clock. Ewing missed an open pull-up from the right side with less than 20 seconds to play, and Summers grabbed the rebound but was called for a foul against Cage.
"I was very scared," Summers said. "I thought I had just cost us the game."
But there was enough time for the Hoyas to go to Green. During a timeout, Georgetown set up the play; Green was to get the ball at the elbow and then look for a backdoor pass right away. If Ewing -- the cutter -- wasn't open, Green was supposed to create for himself.
That's what happened, though Green bobbled the ball before turning for his final shot. He described it as a "fumble play, bumble play I had to make." Sapp called it "Jeff Green time."
"We knew that Jeff was going to do what he do," Sapp said. "We just put our faith in him. Either we're going to win or die with Jeff Green taking that shot."
And once again, the Hoyas won.