Georgetown upends top-seeded Syracuse in Big East tournament

Georgetown advanced to the Big East tournament final, where it fell to West Virginia in a thrilling game.
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 12, 2010

NEW YORK -- Syracuse trotted out to a hero's welcome at Madison Square Garden, where a throng of Orange faithful filled the stands for Thursday's Big East tournament quarterfinal against Georgetown.

The partisan crowd wasn't the only thing in Syracuse's favor. The tournament's No. 1 seed, Syracuse boasted the newly crowned Big East player of the year (Wes Johnson), Big East coach of the year (Jim Boeheim), a 2-0 regular season record against the Hoyas and a new scheme for extending that mark to 3-0.

Boeheim's plan to shut down Hoyas center Greg Monroe's scoring production worked to a certain extent. But he underestimated Monroe's ability to make his towering presence felt in other ways.

With Monroe feeding the ball to his teammates when his own shot was denied, Georgetown toppled Syracuse, 91-84, to advance to Friday's semifinal against Marquette (22-10), which upset fourth-seeded Villanova, 80-76, in the afternoon's second game.

Georgetown's 91 points were the most scored by the Hoyas in the Big East tournament since 1996. And credit was due all around, with four players finishing in double figures and all having a hand in the team's most dogged defensive performance this season.

The outcome delivered a welcome measure of revenge for Georgetown's two regular season losses to Syracuse -- a 73-56 clobbering at the Carrier Dome in late January and a 75-71 heartbreak three weeks later at Verizon Center.

"It's definitely a confidence boost," said junior guard Chris Wright, who scored a game-high 27 points. But "I don't think this team lacks confidence. I just think we're ready to play."

Georgetown (22-9) played tremendous defense, forcing 17 turnovers (13 of them steals) and out-rebounding its taller foes, 29-28. And on offense, the Hoyas were productively unselfish, with 22 assists on 33 field goals.

Austin Freeman and Jason Clark contributed 18 and 17 points, respectively. All told, the Hoyas' starting guards combined for 62 points.

Monroe led the team with seven assists -- hardly the norm for a 6-foot-11 center. But Monroe is rarely confused with a typical big man, blessed with deft hands and uncommon selflessness.

"He's the best inside passer in college basketball, easily," Boeheim said. "And he can score in there."

Georgetown became only the third team to beat Syracuse (28-4) this season, but the defeat shouldn't hurt Syracuse's chance of getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Of greater concern is the health of 6-9 starting center Arinze Onuaku, who injured his right knee with 5 minutes 7 seconds remaining while trying to block a shot by Monroe. After wincing in pain on the court, Onuaku was helped to the locker room, unable to put weight on his leg.

Boeheim characterized it as a "strain," adding that an MRI exam was planned for Friday to see if the injury was more serious.

Syracuse hit its first four shots, with Johnson (24 points) accounting for three of them, to take an 11-4 lead. But Georgetown stormed back with a 10-0 run.

The points didn't come easily, but the Hoyas stuck with it, battling for offensive rebounds and sprinting back on defense when their second or third shots failed.

With Syracuse shooting 59.3 percent in the first half, every empty Georgetown possession was costly. Syracuse, it seemed, scored nearly every trip down court and took a 34-25 lead with 5:29 remaining in the first half.

The Hoyas kept fighting, lunging for loose balls and stripping Orange ballhandlers when they could to pull within three, 40-37, at the break.

Georgetown cranked up its defensive intensity in the second half and, in the process, got more open shots.

Trailing 57-48, Georgetown went on a 10-2 run that was capped by a three-pointer by Clark. It pulled the Hoyas within one, 59-58, with 11:31 left.

Freshman Vee Sanford hit the jumper that gave Georgetown its first lead, at 60-59, since the score was 14-11.

That's when Wright hit his stride, slashing to the basket for one layup after another. He scored eight of Georgetown's next 12 points, the final two coming on a layup that gave the Hoyas a 72-63 lead.

"He really had a great game," Boeheim said of Wright. "When he plays like that, that's when they beat people."

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