Georgetown, barely able to nudge its way into 20th position in the national rankings this week, exploded the top-10 myth for the second time in 24 hours today.
The Hoyas defeated second-ranked Syracuse, 87-81, to capture the first-ever Big East Conference tournament championship and assure themselves a No. 1 or No. 2 seeding in the NCAA East Regional.
It was the 13th consecutive victory for Georgetown, including a 76-66 semifinal win Friday night over eighth-ranked St. John's.
The Hoyas are 24-5; Syracuse 25-3, with two losses to Georgetown.
The Hoyas today proved their victory over Syracuse two weeks ago was no fluke. They did it with suffocating man-to-man defense, poise when behind, strong reserve play and powerful offensive rebounding.
The win equaled the school record for consecutive victories and, once and for all, proved itself the most under-rated team in the nation.
Again Craig Shelton, voted the tournament's outstanding player, dominated inside, forcing Syracuse, a team built on the inside play of center Roosevelt Bouie and forward Louis Orr, to become a perimeter-shooting team. r
Well into the second half, Syracuse was shooting 75 percent from the field. Up to that point the Orangemen had missed only 12 field-goal and free-throw attempts. But Georgetown stayed man-to-man, a move most responsible for the victory.
"We thought we were playing it well," said Georgetown Coach John Thompson, who said his team has earned the No. 1 East seeding. "When they were getting shots, they made them, but they were having trouble getting those shots."
Syracuse committed 25 turnovers in 71 possessions, most of them caused by Georgetown's excellent team defense and the ball-hawking of Eric Smith (six steals), Eric Floyd (three) and Shelton (three). The Hoyas got them when they needed them.
The Hoyas were nursing an 81-77 lead when Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim draw a double technical foul for protesting a traveling call against Roosevelt Bouie with 1:52 left.
Boeheim said he complained to Referee Jim Burroughs about inconsistent officiating.
"I told him, 'you didn't call those two charges at the other end (into Bouie) and you called the walk down here.'"
Asked why he got the second technical, Boeheim replied: "I just told him twice."
Thompson also was called for a technical in the first half and he said the circumstances were similiar. The Southwest Conferennce officials were under orders to Tournament Manager Dave Gavitt to enforce bench decorum "to the letter of the law."
Floyd, who led the Hoyas with 21 points, made two of the four free throws, giving Georgetown an 83-77 advantage.
Smith and Floyd were each successful on one-and-one free throws in the last 24 seconds after the Orangemen made desperate fouls.
"Georgetown has proved twice this year they're a better team than we are," said Boeheim. "We felt if we could hold Shelton, (John) Duren and Floyd close to 60 points, we'd be in good position."
They combined for 51 points, Floyd's 21, Shelton's 18, and Duren's 12.
"But Smith and Ed Spriggs broke our backs coming off the bench," Boeheim continued. "Spriggs has hurt us three games in a row."
Today, he had 13 points and 10 rebounds, seven offensive. Smith complemented his defense with 17 points, helping Georgetown earn a 34-14 advantage in scoring by reserves.
They offset phenomenal outside shooting by guard Marty Headd (nine of 13 for 23 points), forward Louis Orr (eight of 10 for 16 points, all in the second half) and center Dan Schayes (five of six for 10 points).
Syracuse shot 65 percent for the game.
It was an exciting game, the only disappointment being the small crowd of 9,234 in the Providence Civic Center.
"The kids are playing with pride and enthusiasm," said Thompson. "I just hope they can sustain it."
The Hoyas showed no signs of letting down. There were a number of bog plays, in the first half when Spriggs' offensive rebounding was decisive, and in the second, when the defense responded to a 12-4 Syracuse spurt, giving the Orangemen a 53-47 lead early in the second half.
No bigger play occured than after Thompson called a timeout to regroup and settle his team with Syracuse ahead 55-49, with possession under the Georgetown basket.
Georgetown, which had forced 13 first-half turnovers, had not produced one of the first seven possessions of the second half. In addition, the Hoyas had committed six team fouls, to none for Syracuse. The crowd seemed to be affecting the Hoyas.
"I said a prayer," Thompson quipped when asked what he said during the timeout. "I'd like to tell you I devised some great coaching strategy. I just told the kids to keep their composure, don't let the fans dictate the score. I took the timeout because I thought we were diving."
Three Syracuse passes later, Floyd stole an Erich Santifer pass, resulting in two Duren free throws at the other end cutting the Hoya deficit to 55-51.
"I was playing between Santifer and Eddie Moss," Floyd recalled later. "I anticipated the pass and to my luck he threw it at the right time."
Standing next to him in the locker room, Assistant Coach Bob Grier said, "Tenacious."
From that point on, the game belonged to the Hoyas. Georgetown was back in its stifling defense. There was a five-second inbounds violation: a Smith steal that so flustered forward Ron Payton he fouled in retaliation. aFinally, Georgetown regained the lead, 65-63, on a Terry Fenlon jumper with 9:58 to play.
Two foul shots by Shelton gave the Hoyas a 67-65 lead and they appeared ready to break open the game after Smith picked off a Hal Cohen pass intended for Orr in the corner.
The Hoyas worked the ball inside to Shelton and he went up to Schayes a few feet from the basket. The ball dropped and the whistle blew. Offensive foul. It was Syracuse's possession.
Orr tied the game on a follow-up shot. But, not to be denied, Shelton again worked inside, Duren hit him with a nifty pass and this time he got a three-point play when Schayes fouled him. That made it 70-67. A few moments later, Floyd made a three-point play, driving in the lane, pulling up for the short jumper and getting fouled by Moss. That made it 77-73.
When Spriggs made a layup with 1:57 left, on a feed from Shelton, Georgetown still led by four, 81-77. Then Boeheim did his technical act and the Hoyas went ahead by six.
Orr responded for Syracuse with another bomb and Moss stole the ball from Floyd. Smith was there again, forcing Moss to walk for Syracuse's 25th turnover.
Afterward, Boeheim saluted Spriggs and the other Hoya rebounders, as much as the defense. "The strength of their game is their offensive rebounding. Orr and Bouie get good position on the boards, but we haven't been able to get anybody else in position."
Said Spriggs: "We're taking home the Big East. We're looking on. Yesterday it was the Big East. Today we're looking for the NCAA."
Selected for the Big East Conference all-tournament team were Georgetown's Craig Shelton, Eric Floyd and John Duren; Syracuse's Louis Orr and Marty Headd and David Russell of St. John's.