By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 2008
With the victory finally assured in what had been an ugly, ungainly battle, Georgetown's Jessie Sapp gave the ball a celebratory, underhanded heave with one second remaining.
It swished in for a three-pointer.
And it was the only thing that came easily yesterday afternoon as the 19th-ranked Hoyas knocked off 17th-ranked Memphis in overtime, 79-70, before an exuberant crowd of 15,238 at Verizon Center.
It was Georgetown's first victory against a ranked opponent, and it extended the Hoyas' winning streak at home to 26 games. Yet it was hardly without shortcomings -- missed free throws, errant three-point shots and a spanking on the boards, with the Hoyas getting out-rebounded, 53 to 36.
It was the sort of game, Coach John Thompson III said afterward, that would surely give him a stomachache when he reviewed the tape. And it probably offended basketball purists, too, with Memphis taking more shots (78) than it scored points (70), and Georgetown making only 4 of 20 attempts from beyond the arc.
But the game was rich in drama and grit, with the lead changing hands 18 times, and the smallest player on court -- 6-foot-1 guard Chris Wright -- standing tallest in the end.
Wright (14 points, three rebounds) flung himself face-first on the court in a desperate attempt to end the game in regulation after the Tigers' precocious freshman, Tyreke Evans (20 points, seven rebounds), drove to the basket and fired the shot that was tipped in with four seconds remaining to force overtime.
Then in overtime, Wright came up with a cagey spin move and clutch basket to put the Hoyas up, 73-70, and stifle Evans, who is five inches taller, on the defensive end. Memphis made just 1 of 9 attempts from the floor in overtime.
"It just goes to show: Size isn't the most important thing in the game," Wright said.
The Hoyas were led by junior forward DaJuan Summers, who scored 21 points and snared the most important of his seven rebounds in the waning minutes. Also in double figures: Austin Freeman (18 points, five rebounds) and freshman center Greg Monroe (13 points, six rebounds).
"We did not play well," Thompson said. "But we made plays when we had to."
Until yesterday it was hard to know how far Georgetown (7-1) had come in this season of rebuilding. The Hoyas had manhandled their three previous opponents (Savannah State, American and Maryland) but lost decisively to Tennessee, the only ranked opponent they had faced.
And Memphis (5-2), last season's runner-up for the NCAA championship, had a lot in common with Tennessee, loaded with depth, quickness and athleticism.
The arena buzzed with big-game electricity when players trotted onto the court. The CBS announcing tandem of Clark Kellogg and Jim Nantz sported tuxedos. And Georgetown's beloved big man Dikembe Mutombo looked on from a courtside seat.
The Tigers came out firing. It hardly mattered that few of their shots were on target because 6-9 forward Shawn Taggart tipped in any ball that was even close to the rim, giving Memphis second and third chances at a basket.
The lead swung back and forth, with Memphis going on a seven-point run early in the game, and Georgetown answering with a 10-point run.
The Hoyas trailed 38-37 at the half, and Thompson used the break to stress the need to right the imbalance on the boards.
Georgetown compensated for its poor shooting from beyond the arc at the free throw line, where they scored 27 of their 79 points.
Thompson leaned heavily on his starting five -- particularly Summers, Wright, Monroe and Freeman, all of whom played 40 or more minutes. And their toughness over the last five minutes made the difference.
With Sapp in foul trouble, freshman Jason Clark hit a clutch jumper in overtime to give the Hoyas a 69-66 lead. Summers and Monroe did their best work on the boards, holding the Tigers to a single, desperate possession on each trip down the court.
"Today was a big step for us," Wright said. "Grinding it out and winning this game was very important."