By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 26, 2007
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 25 -- Moments after second-seeded Georgetown beat top-seeded North Carolina, 96-84, in overtime, Coach John Thompson III accepted the Hoyas' first NCAA tournament region championship trophy in 22 years and then took the microphone.
The normally even-tempered coach led Georgetown fans inside sold-out Continental Airlines Arena in an impromptu call-and-answer.
"We are!" Thompson yelled.
"Georgetown!" screamed the crowd.
Thompson had a right to cut loose. The Hoyas (30-6) are in the Final Four for the first time since 1985 and the fifth time overall. They did it by patiently overcoming an 11-point second-half deficit, and by holding one of the nation's most explosive offensive teams to 1-of-23 shooting over a more than 10-minute stretch that spanned the end of regulation and overtime.
"I'm so proud of these guys," said Thompson, whose team started the season ranked eighth in the country, then dropped out of the national rankings, only to enter the NCAA tournament on a roll. "They've kind of played this year out in many ways as I thought it would. . . . I knew we had a chance to be very good by this time of year."
Georgetown will play Ohio State in the national semifinals at 6:07 p.m. on Saturday in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.
All five Georgetown starters scored in double figures, led by junior Jeff Green (22 points) and freshman DaJuan Summers (20 points). Both forwards were named to the all-region team, along with center Roy Hibbert. Green was named the region's most outstanding player.
After the game, the Tar Heels spoke glowingly of Georgetown's offense, which produced its highest point total of the season on 57.6 percent shooting. Georgetown and North Carolina rank among the nation's most efficient offenses, but the teams prefer to play at vastly different tempos. For the first 33 minutes, the game was played at the quick pace that the Tar Heels are accustomed to; they led 75-65 with 7 minutes 7 seconds remaining -- the Hoyas average 68 points per game.
But from that point on, Georgetown methodically worked its way back into the game. Thompson felt the Hoyas were getting what they wanted on offense, but they needed to find a way to slow down the Tar Heels' transition game and limit point guard Ty Lawson's penetration. Georgetown also needed to attack the boards and limit North Carolina's second shots (23 second-chance points).
"They rebound extremely well, and they have bouncy players," said Hibbert, who recorded his fifth consecutive double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds. "We had to put a body on them as soon as they took a shot. Coach was adamant about limiting them to one shot, and that's what helped us out in the long run."
Hibbert, Green and Summers seemed to run down every errant North Carolina shot, and that helped the Hoyas get back into the game. Sapp scored on drives, Hibbert spun past Reyshawn Terry for a dunk, and Patrick Ewing Jr. grabbed an air ball from Green and laid it into the basket.
With 31 seconds remaining, Georgetown finally tied the score at 81 when Wallace coolly sank a three-pointer from the left side. The Tar Heels called a timeout, but they were unable to get a good look inside against the Hoyas' zone, and settled for a three-point attempt from Wayne Ellington. Ewing leapt high to grab the rebound and called a timeout with 1.4 seconds left.
Ewing kissed the ball, and his father -- who was on the team that lost to North Carolina in 1982 -- high-fived fans in the stands. Even though the Hoyas weren't able to get a final shot off in regulation, they felt good about heading into overtime.
"That it's over for them," said Ewing, when asked what was going through his mind when the extra five minutes began. "That's the thing that everyone said [about North Carolina], they wear down teams and the last five minutes is really when they explode. Today it was us that exploded in the last five minutes. Just like the [Boston College second round] game, we had 11 minutes left on the clock and we were down. Coach told us, 'Don't worry.' "
That's been the Hoyas' hallmark throughout the postseason, as they won the Big East tournament and now the NCAA tournament East Region. Their patience was certainly tested against North Carolina.
In the first half, the Hoyas shot 59.4 percent (19 of 32) and committed just four turnovers, yet they trailed at halftime for the third straight game; this time, the deficit was 50-44. The Tar Heels also shot well (15 of 30) in the first 20 minutes, but they held a huge advantage in free throws.
North Carolina was 17 of 20 from the foul line -- Tyler Hansbrough made all eight of his attempts -- while Georgetown was just 2 of 5. Referee Curtis Shaw gave Thompson a technical foul (his second of the season) less than eight minutes into the game for "a bench decorum issue." With less than a second left until halftime, Ewing was called for a foul while battling with Alex Stepheson for a rebound, which led to a cascade of boos from the Georgetown fans in the crowd of 19,557.
But that was well in the past when overtime began. The Hoyas scored the first 14 points of the extra period, and it was only fitting that their first basket came on a nicely executed backdoor cut, with Green feeding Wallace for a layup. Hibbert blocked a shot by Terry and then Summers picked up a loose ball and dunked it over Hansbrough (26 points), who was lying on the ground.
After the game, assistant coach Kevin Broadus walked across the court and presented one of the Georgetown region final T-shirts to Hall of Fame Coach John Thompson Jr., who was sitting courtside doing the radio broadcast. Then, the current Hoyas went over to the man who led Georgetown to its last three Final Fours, and they exchanged hugs and high-fives. Longtime trainer Lorry Michel received a kiss.
"The dude is a legend, man," said Sapp, who had 15 points and eight assists. "When you think about the whole Georgetown thing, you think about John Thompson Jr. . . . It's an honor to have him sit courtside and watch us."
Meantime, Thompson III made his way through the crowd to embrace his mentor, former Princeton coach Pete Carril -- who was wearing a gray Georgetown cap. Then Thompson III went up to the stage, where he took the trophy and then the microphone.
"It's growing up coming to the game, growing up with the program -- that's my favorite cheer," he said. "That's something that's special to me."