By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 15, 2009
SYRACUSE, N.Y., Feb. 14 -- When DaJuan Summers elevated for a potential game-winning shot, one that would have completed a stunning comeback, 31,841 mostly Orange-clad fans momentarily were silent. When the ball bounced off the rim, a collective sigh filled the Carrier Dome, and Georgetown and Syracuse headed to overtime.
A game that seemed all but decided when the Orange held a 16-point lead late in the second half -- security personnel even gathered along the baseline of the Carrier Dome's court in case of a student stampede -- quickly turned into the type of thriller that has long made this one of the heated rivalries in college basketball.
Georgetown overcame that deficit to force overtime, but the Hoyas could not maintain their surge in the extra minutes in their eventual 98-94 loss on Saturday afternoon.
It was another frustrating loss for Georgetown (13-10, 4-8 Big East), its seventh in eight games, although it took on a different tenor than its overtime loss at home to Cincinnati in its previous game on Feb. 7.
"It feels the same. It was different, though," Hoyas Coach John Thompson III said. "It's difficult, but we played today. We came out and competed. We got down, we made them scrap. It was the understanding of one possession at a time as opposed to trying to hit home runs every trip down the court on both ends. To that extent, maybe we made some progress."
Thompson benched his entire starting five early in the Cincinnati loss, but those same players returned to Saturday's huddles confident even when the deficit grew. For one of the first times this season, Thompson said his players understood they were still in a game that could have easily gotten away from such a young team.
"I strongly believed we were going to win that game," said sophomore guard Chris Wright, who finished with 25 points. "I think everybody believed we were going to win that game."
Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said Georgetown started to attack after playing "passive" in the first half. It also helped that the Hoyas' three-pointers fell. Georgetown hit four of its final five three-point attempts in regulation, the primary catalyst for erasing Syracuse's 10-point lead with 2 minutes 36 seconds remaining.
Wright attributed the comeback to playing with instinct. The Hoyas developed the wherewithal of a team that was once ranked in the top 10, and some of its lost pieces were found. Jessie Sapp, Georgetown's lone senior who receives much playing time, came off the bench to score nine points one game after being held scoreless in six minutes. Summers scored 17 points after totaling 12 points in the previous two games combined. And heralded freshman Greg Monroe (16 points, 11 rebounds) recorded his first double-double since Jan. 10.
When allowed an open shot -- and Syracuse's 2-3 zone often allowed open three-point looks -- Georgetown hit them. Wright made 5 of 8 three-point attempts, none bigger than the game-tying shot with 13 seconds left in the second half.
On the ensuing possession, Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn's errant pass ended up in Summers's hands. Summers had five seconds to bring the ball down the court and set his feet for a wide-open attempt, but the jumper clanked away.
"I thought it was going in," Summers said.
Georgetown took an 89-88 lead with 2:14 remaining in overtime, forcing Boeheim to call a timeout. The Orange came out of the break with a play designed for guard Eric Devendorf, who sank a three-pointer -- Boeheim called it a "do-or-die shot" -- to regain a lead Syracuse (19-7, 7-6) never surrendered.
"This game will be a Georgetown-Syracuse classic very quickly," Boeheim said.
Yet Thompson would have preferred the classic be remembered more for Georgetown earning an elusive win than falling short in an impressive comeback. Some of the issues that disrupted the Hoyas during their slump were corrected against Syracuse, but the result was more of the same.
Wright said the best improvement is seen through winning, and even Thompson changed the subject from the positives of Saturday's game to the need for victories. Georgetown has six games left in the regular season, and three are against ranked opponents. That was why the Hoyas took little satisfaction in a noteworthy comeback that did not improve their place in the Big East standings.
"I don't think anybody has been through something like this," Wright said. "This is very tough, and we need to find a way to get wins. We played hard, but the result wasn't different."