Wallace Saves His Best for Last

By Alan Goldenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 26, 2007

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 25 -- Jessie Sapp had the ball and the chance to be the hero, and really, there was nothing more that would have pleased the extroverted sophomore.

But even in the midst of his best all-around game of the tournament, a confident shooting stroke and several of the native New Yorker's friends in the building, Sapp passed on the game's biggest shot.

He saw his Georgetown backcourt mate, Jonathan Wallace, curling around the arc at the left of the key. With the Hoyas trailing North Carolina by three with just over 30 seconds left in the NCAA tournament East Region final, Sapp knew this shot was meant for Wallace.

"They gave it to me, but I saw Jonathan, so I gave it to him," Sapp said. "Jon is a better three-point shooter than I was. I know that. And he was wide open."

And Wallace wasted no time releasing a shot he knew right away was perfect. The three-pointer capped Georgetown's incredible second-half surge, tied the score at 81 and sent the game into overtime, where the Hoyas pulled away for a 96-84 victory.

The team known more for its talented front court of Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert needed its back court to make the plays that would save its season. And with the duo battling North Carolina's equally strong forwards Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright, Georgetown's guards proved to be decisive.

Hoyas Coach John Thompson III said there was never any doubt; he wanted Wallace, a former walk-on, to lead the program back to the Final Four for the first time in 22 years.

"Oh yeah, we wanted that," Thompson said. "We put him on the side. We had Jeff post him. But, you know, I thought we were going to get the shot at the top for Jon. That's what we were looking for.

"Jon has been making those shots for three years now. So, we put the person that we wanted to get the shot where we wanted, and we were fortunate that it went in."

The shot didn't look forced, and Wallace said he was feeling good throughout the game. He shot 7 of 11 from the field, one of his best shooting games of the season, and his 19 points were two shy of his career high against Seton Hall on Jan. 19.

"That shot came within the rhythm of our offense," Wallace said. "We spread out, and hit that side of the floor and my teammate found me. . . .

"It feels good, you know."

Hibbert said he smiled when he saw Sapp feed Wallace the ball. It's a play Hibbert said the Hoyas often practice, precisely with Wallace catching the ball at that spot.

"He's calm out there," Hibbert said. "He doesn't take bad shots. That's Jon's favorite spot. He likes to come off the drift, so we always like to run that play."

And that's why Wallace didn't mind taking the big shot. It so impressed Tar Heels Coach Roy Williams, that he went over to Wallace afterward to tell him.

"I told Jonathan Wallace, 'Son, you made a big-time shot. Congratulations and good luck to you,' " Williams said. "Toughness is being like Wallace. If you don't make that shot, you probably don't win that game."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company