By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 15, 2009
The Big East has changed members too many times to count in its 30-year history, but one rivalry -- Georgetown vs. Syracuse -- has withstood every permutation.
The enmity is as strong today as it was three decades ago. And it extended from the stands to the court last night at Verizon Center, where the Hoyas spilled their guts against the team they most love to beat, playing from the tip-off as if determined to right some horrible wrong in an 88-74 victory.
The Hoyas attacked the boards, nearly brought down the backboards with dunks, drew two technical fouls and snarled with wild glee as shot after shot sailed through the net. And they swaggered off the court with the win -- one that was never in doubt -- having handed eighth-ranked Syracuse its first Big East loss of the season.
No. 13 Georgetown (12-3, 3-2) never trailed, outperforming Syracuse -- a team whose only previous loss came Dec. 15 on a half-court buzzer-beater against Cleveland State -- on nearly every measure.
It was if the Hoyas were determined to answer every doubt about them with this single performance.
"It was just one of those games," junior forward DaJuan Summers said. "We were hitting on all cylinders and playing unselfishly. And when we do that, I think, we're a good team."
That thin Georgetown roster, with a bench that offered little help? Last night's victory was a bona fide team effort, with all 10 scholarship players scoring. Summers led everyone with 21 points. But 29 of the Hoyas' 88 points came from the bench, with backups Jason Clark (12 points) and Nikita Mescheriakov (six points) posting career highs.
The erratic shooting from long range? The Hoyas made 12 of their 21 three-point attempts (a staggering 57.1 percent), with Austin Freeman (19 points) pouring in four. They shot 59.3 percent overall.
The rap that Georgetown wasn't tough enough to mix it up with the bruisers of the Big East? Despite Syracuse's vaunted zone defense, the Hoyas outscored the Orange in the paint until the game's final minutes. They also dominated the boards early.
And when Syracuse threatened to turn the game's momentum, opening the second half with an 8-0 run, Georgetown didn't panic and stuck to its game plan -- working the ball among themselves until the smart shot presented itself.
Syracuse (16-2, 4-1) arrived at Verizon Center riding a seven-game winning streak and was seen as Coach Jim Boeheim's most formidable squad since the 2003 NCAA championship team.
The Orange was greeted by a flagrantly partisan crowd brandishing bare chests, blue wigs and special-edition newspapers that screamed, "BEAT 'CUSE!" Among the fully clad were 21 NBA scouts; the NCAA men's basketball tournament selection committee, in town for the NCAA's annual convention; and Sen. John McCain, who had a courtside seat.
By the end of the night, everyone was standing, and most were chanting "Over-rated! Over-rated!"
The Orange opened stone cold, hitting just one of its first nine shots while Georgetown bolted to a 10-2 lead.
In an effort to catch up, Boeheim switched up his defenses, alternating man-to-man with his traditional 2-3 zone. But the zone didn't hold up against Clark and Chris Wright, crafty speedsters who slashed to the basket easily.
"I wish I could tell you the key to attacking their zone," Georgetown Coach John Thompson III said. "They've been doing that for so long that whatever you think the key is, they have the answer, they have an adjustment, they have a tweak. . . . So I think the key is to just play."
Thompson also kept his lineup fresh, sending in Mescheriakov, who hadn't played in the last four games, with the Hoyas leading 17-14. In a matter of seconds, the wiry Belarusan forward drained successive three-pointers to key a 17-1 Georgetown run.
"I told the team, 'Everybody played and everybody made significant contributions,' " Thompson said. "Nikita comes in, and he's been a bit of [a] deer in the headlights and all of a sudden . . . I throw him in there and he bangs two shots in a row. That's how it should be. We have confidence in each other."
Summers erupted in a fury after stripping the ball on one play. He raced downcourt like a locomotive and finished with a one-handed dunk that landed him flat on his back and earned him a technical foul for his exuberance. The arena erupted, as did Boeheim when Syracuse defender Kristof Ongenaet was called for an intentional foul on the play.
But nothing, it seemed, could stop the Hoyas. The Hoyas went nearly nine minutes without missing a shot during one stretch and led by 21 before taking a 50-32 lead at halftime.