The Hoyas' Working Partnership
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Seemingly every time Jonathan Wallace turns on the television lately, the Georgetown guard is faced with another replay of the shot he took with 31.2 seconds left in the NCAA East Region final against North Carolina. Of course, Wallace doesn't mind watching himself calmly square up for the three-pointer, because he made the shot to tie the score and send the game into overtime, when the Hoyas eventually won.
That play may have introduced Wallace to a national audience, but it was something the rest of the Hoyas have grown accustomed to seeing.
"A lot of people across the country saw it, but he's been making those shots for three years now," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. "There have been many, many games where at the four-minute mark, when we need a basket, he makes them, and that's consistently happened for three years."
Georgetown, which will face Ohio State on Saturday in the national semifinals, often is defined by its front-court players: versatile forward Jeff Green, imposing center Roy Hibbert and explosive reserve forward Patrick Ewing Jr. But throughout the season -- and especially in the postseason -- the Hoyas have been able to rely on Wallace and his back-court partner, Jessie Sapp.
In the Hoyas' 84-82 victory over Notre Dame in the Big East tournament semifinals -- a game that was won on a jumper by Green with 13 seconds left -- Wallace and Sapp combined to make three three-pointers in the second half that either tied the score or gave Georgetown a lead.
Against Boston College in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Wallace scored 11 first-half points on 4-of-5 shooting when Green and Hibbert were struggling (combined six points on 1-of-5 shooting). In the region semifinals against Vanderbilt -- another game that was won on a last-second shot by Green -- Sapp hit a three-pointer that ended a five-point Commodores run with less than five minutes remaining.
In the postseason, Wallace is shooting 54.8 percent (17 of 31) from beyond the arc. He has 27 assists and just five turnovers. Sapp has 29 assists against just nine turnovers, and also has 11 steals.
"They do a lot of things that people don't notice, but me and Roy still get a lot of credit when we do the little things," said Green, who was named the region's most outstanding player. "They control the team with their style of play and bringing the ball up the floor."
And they each bring something different to the Hoyas. When Thompson talks about Wallace, he often praises the junior's work ethic and determination, and his ability to get the most out of his God-given abilities. When asked about Sapp, Thompson mentions the sophomore's competitiveness and intensity, and his knack for just making plays.
The sociable Sapp and the more reserved Wallace have formed quite the partnership, though off the court, "we don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things," Wallace said with a smile. Each one calls the other stubborn, though they agree the main thing they have in common is "the desire to win." At the Big East tournament, the two guards used the hotel phones to call each other with little reminders about the upcoming final against Pittsburgh.
Wallace grew up on a cattle farm in Harvest, Ala.; the first time the Harlem-bred Sapp saw a real live cow was on a school field trip to a dairy. Sapp is used to relying on taxis and subways to get around (he only has his learner's permit); Wallace claims that "taxis are dangerous because you don't know who's driving."
"He's a hard-nosed guy. He's a New York City point guard," Wallace said of Sapp. "He's a guy who's never going to back down. You should see him in little scuffles and so forth; that just shows the heart and tenacity he brings to a game. It takes a little bit to get me riled up, but I still think I play with that intensity."
As basketball players, they complement each other. Sapp thrives off of driving to the basket and is a blur when he gets the ball in his hands and has the open court ahead of him. Wallace never seems hurried and is very good at stepping out and launching that distinctive, high-arcing shot.
"I feel that every time he puts the ball up, it's going in," Sapp said. "I really feel that way about Jon. I feel that his shot selection is great."
So there was no question in the Hoyas' minds that they wanted Wallace taking that key three-pointer against the Tar Heels. Wallace described it simply as "a practice shot," just a part of the Hoyas' offense they often use. Sapp slyly points out he was the one who passed the ball to Wallace, which wound up being his eighth and final assist (tying his career high).
"That's really a play that we had been running all day, but when they ran it for me, I was penetrating off of it. When we ran it for him, he made the shot," Sapp said. "It's like that Carmelo Anthony commercial, where he says that you shouldn't be afraid to take a shot if you practice it. We practiced it already, and he wasn't afraid to take it. I'm glad he made it."