Georgetown, a basketball team for any tempo, played the cautious game to near perfection yesterday and won an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with a 66-58 victory over Syracuse at Cole Field House.
The 15th-ranked Hoyas' 24th victory in 28 games, a school record, gave them the ECAC Upstate New York-Southern championship and ended Syracuse's 19-game winning streak.
It also was Georgetown's first victory over a top 10-ranked team in Coach John Thompson's seven years of bringing the Hoyas to national prominence. Only 7,150 were on hand to watch probably the best match up in the East this year, although the game was on television.
"The first one's always the best, but this one feels just as good," said Thompson, referring to the 63-61 victory over West Virginia five years ago that brought the Hoyas their first NCAA bid since 1943. This wrapped up their third bid in five years and almost guarantees a high seeding in the East Regional.
Now the Hoyas, unlike Syracuse, do not have to wait by the telephone today for an at-large NCAA bid.
"I can tell them how it feels," Thompson said. "We waited around all day last year for that call that never came."
Syracuse, 25-3 and ranked No. 5 and 6 in the polls, is almost sure of getting an at-large bid. But Coach Jim Boeheim will have to stick close to the phone today because his outside shooters could not hit and Georgetown controlled the game so well.
Georgetown also prevailed because of outstanding performances down the stretch by two freshmen: 6-foot-9 Ed Spriggs and 6-7 Jeff Bullis.
Spriggs, replacing injured center Tom Scates, stayed out of foul trouble and had eight points, four rebounds, two blocked shots and an assist in 38 minutes. He sank five of six free throws in the final 1:42 to help hold off the Orangemen.
Bullis, both a backup center and a power forward, scored all of his nine points in the last six minutes and made seven of 10 free throws in the last 5:39. He also was involved in a controversial referee's decision late in the game, when blocking was called on Syracuse's Mark Cubit after a mid-court collision.
The Georgetown defense, both the zone and the man-to-man, was designed to keep the ball from Syracuse's 6-11 center Roosevelt Bouie. Bouie scored 12 of his 17 points in the first half, so Georgetown played more man-to-man the second.
Syracuse, which shoots 53.6 percent as a team, made only 40 percent of its shots yesterday.
"We shouldn't have gone inside more because they were packing it," said Bouie. "They were always double- and triple-teamming me."
But Marty Headd (a 52 percent pure shooter who made one of 11 shots), Hal Cohen (five for 11) and Dale Shackleford (five for 16) missed most of their shots.
"It was one of those games," said Headd. "I'm just going to forget it. I couldn't put the ball in the ocean today."
"Their best defense is their controlled offense," said forward Louis Orr, one of three Syracuse players to foul out of a game that Boeheim claimed "was decided by two things: outshooting and the other (officiating) that I won't talk about."
Georgetown trailed at halftime, 30-28, but as soon as the Hoyas got the lead in the second half they either spread their offense, went to the four corners infrequently or into a double-post stack that proved very successful.
"We wanted to slow it up and play that kind of chess game," said Georgetown point guard John Duren, this tournament's most valuable player. "We wanted to make them think. The thinking game is our game."
Georgetown, with Scates already out, had star forward Craig Shelton for only 36 seconds of the final 11 minutes, 12 seconds because of fouls.
Spriggs' only field goal of the day, a layup coming off Steve Martin's pass from the corner, turned into a three-point play, saddled Orr with his fourth foul and gave Georgetown a lead it would never lose, 33-32, with 17:22 to play.
When Eddie Moss, Syracuse's third guard, was called for traveling against Georgetown's full-court zone press on the ensuing inbounds pass, the Hoyas were in position to make Syracuse play to their offense.
Duren, who had a team-high 17 points, missed a jump shot. But Sleepy Floyd, the usually hot-shooting freshman guard who was inaccurate yesterday, got the rebound. Duren, given a second chance, then swished a 20-foot jump shot.
He sank another jumper, making it 37-32. Then Floyd scored six straight points, recovering his own miss for a layup, making two free throws and, in one of the game's niftiest moves, faking Bouie for a layup on a two-on-one breakaway.
That made it 43-35 with 8 1/2 minutes gone, in a half in which Syracuse scored only five points in 11 possession.
Shelton picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench little more than a minute later. The Hoyas then missed several shots, had trouble with Syracuse's press and, without Shelton or Scates, were giving up as many followups as Syracuse needed to get a basket.
Suddenly it was 46-43 and the game's two most important plays were coming. The first ended with what Boeheim described as the most important call of the game, which went against his team.
Martin, always the trigger man for Georgetown, was having trouble finding an open teammate against Syracuse's full-court press. Bullis, at midcourt, came running back and collided with Cubit. A blocking foul was called on Cubit.
"It happened right in front of our bench," Boeheim said. "bullis comes up to the ball from mid-court and runs over him."
"It was a tough call," Bullis said. "I was flying through the air. The rules state you have to be able to come down. It was like a broad jump.I'll have to check out the tapes on that."
So, instead of Syracuse having the ball and a chance to cut the lead to one, Bullis went to the foul line for his first free throws. He made the first, missed the second. And when Cohen hit one of the Orange's few successful outside shots, it was 47-45.
But Bullis scored the next basket, which would turn out to be Georgetown's last.
Orr made a fine defensive play, almost intercepting Duren's cross-court pass to Spriggs. But Bullis picked up the loose ball and, instinctively, put up a four-foot jumper over Bouie.
That made it 49-45 with 3:31 left and the rest of the game was a parade to the free throw line for Georgetown. The Hoyas' 40 free throws and 30 successes were both ECAC tournament records.