Georgetown finally hurdled the NCAA tournament opening-game barrier today, setting up an East Regional semifinal against Maryland with a 74-71 victory over Iona.
Craig Shelton carried Georgetown to its 14th straight victory -- a school record and now the nation's longest streak -- on a day the Hoyas' level of play was hardly "indescribably delicious," as Coach John Thompson likes to say. The victory was delectable nevertheless.
Shelton's two free throws with three seconds to play iced the victory, after Iona guard Glenn Vickers missed a rushed, but open, 18-foot jump shot with five seconds to play. Shelton, who scored 27 points, 17 in the second half, had missed two free throws in the previous half minute that could have clinched victory earlier.
It was Georgetown's first NCAA triumph in four appearances in Thompson's eight years at the Hilltop. Georgetown is now 25-5, the most victories in the school's history.
As Shelton went to the foul line before his first miss, when Georgetown had a two-point lead, Thompson said he thought to himself, "'Hey, baby, it's over. The monkey is off.' But then, boom, and I say, 'Oh, my goodness.' But I knew he'd make the last two."
So now it is on to Philadelphia and the Spectrum Friday night for a rematch of the Washington-area rivalry won by Georgetown in early December, 83-71.
"Every time we play them, it's like an NCAA game anyway," Thompson said. "This time the stakes are higher."
The winner of Friday's game will be within one victory of the final four. Syracuse also advanced to the East Regional semifinals, drubbing Villanova, 97-83, today. Syracuse meets Iowa Friday.
"We were very fortunate," said Mike Frazier, Georgetown's 7-foot reserve center who did the best job against Iona's Jeff Ruland. "It's better it came now than when we get down to the final four."
Iona (29-5) was well prepared for Georgetown's press and did an exceptionally fine job on the offensive boards, with forward Alex Middleton getting a team-high 18 points, 14 on offensive rebounds and other junk.
But Georgetown applied the kind of pressure that it had use for entire games during its winning streak only in spots today.
"We never had a consistent rhythm," Thompson said. "We had to generate enthusiasm. It was like pumping air in a leaking tire. You generate it and it's hell for awhile and then it sizzles down . . . We were pumping ourselves back up. It just wasn't there today. But I have all the confidence in the world these kids will be ready to play."
Iona Coach Jim Valvano thought his team was in perfect position to post its 18th straight victory when the Gaels led, 45-37, early in the second half. Georgetown, keyed by two Shelton offensive rebounds, scored eight points including six by Shelton, in 1 minute 16 seconds to tie the game. That started a 17-4 Georgetown spurt.
"Every game we've been in we've controlled the tempo in this streak," Valvano said. "Instead, for the first time, we reacted poorly against the press; we made all bad decisions.
"We lost all of our points and our poise, I really felt confident before that. They took a timeout and I said we'll sit back in a tight zone, get the rebounds and each time run 35 seconds off the clock."
Instead, the Gaels panicked. They lost the ball twice against the press.
At the end when Vickers missed a shot with his team trailing 72-71, the Gaels again did not execute properly.
During his team's final timeout, with 18 seconds remaining following a Ruland basket, Valvano said he told his players to foul immediately after any in-bounds pass. He also called a play in which the pass following a defensive rebound would go to Vickers.
Then Vickers, a four-year starter and the first "blue-chipper" Valvano recruited at Iona, was supposed to try to penetrate the lane area. He is not a good perimeter shooter, but an excellent scorer when he gets into the lane area. He also was supposed to have two good jump shooters, Kevin Hamilton and freshman Jeff Williams, on the wings, with Ruland and 6-10 Kevin Vesey on the baseline for possible passes.
On the ensuing in-bounds pass Shelton was fouled with 16 seconds to play. He missed the front end of the bonus opportunity and Williams took the rebound. Instead of holding up and passing to Vickers, Williams threw the ball downcourt, toward Hamilton in the corner.
"I was very upset at what transpired," Valvano said. "We talked on the bench what we wanted to do and we didn't execute it. Glenn was the one we wanted with the ball, but the third of our three outside people we wanted to shoot it."
The gaels lost some time, but not as much as Vickers thought, when he launched his 18-footer with five seconds to play. It was not a high-percentage shot for him. The scoreboard clock was to his rear at midcourt.
"I thought there were two seconds left on the clock," he said. "It doesn't matter where the clock was, even if it was in somebody's pocket. I'm a senior, I should have known. I feel qualified in that situation. But there was time to drive, time to do quite a few things."
Instead, he pulled up for the jumper. The ball hit the front of the rim, caromed off the backboard and Shelton clamped the rebound on the left side of the basket. Hamilton immediately fouled him. This time the Big East Conference tournament's most outstanding player connected on both ends of the one and one.
"Yes, I thought about the two misses for a while," Shelton said. "And then I said to myself, 'That's over with. I got a chance again. So I might as well put them in.'"
When they worked the ball inside to the quick Shelton, the Hoyas also got Middleton in foul trouble. He exploited the Hoyas for 14 first-half points and 10 of his 13 total rebounds. He fouled out with 28 seconds left, fouling Shelton after Vickers' leaning jumper in the lane was tipped just enough by Frazier to go off line, with Shelton getting the rebound.
Frazier played 25 minutes, scoring seven points, and took a key offensive charge by Ruland with 2:11 to play following a John Duren turnover that gave the Gaels possesson trailing, 70-69.
Eric Smith, who had not practiced since injuring his right ankle in practice Thursday and did not arrive here until 12:45 this morning, made one of two free throws making it 71-69 with 1:36 to play.
Frazier also played a lot because Ed Spriggs, whose play has been so vital in Georgetown's streak, was in foul trouble. And that is why, Thompson said, he went into a stall with a 68-67 lead and seven minutes to play.
"We didn't want them to come out of the zone," Thompson said. "Spriggs and Sleepy both were in foul trouble. We wanted to cut the clock in half."
Thompson called a timeout with 3:30 left and inserted Floyd, who immediately scored on a nifty driving layup as Iona finally went to man to man again. Williams' offensive-rebound followup -- the Gaels got eight of their 29 baskets this way -- made it 70-69.
"We made a few mistakes," Shelton concluded, "but we kept our poise at the end."
In the second game, Erich Santifer scored a career high 29 points as sixth-ranked Syracuse opened a big early lead and rolled over Villanova.
It was all Syracuse once the Orangemen 26-3, got rolling midway through the first half with an 18-4 spurt sparked by Santifer and Dan Schayes.
Their pair combined for 12 points in that streak as the Big East team moved from a 20-16 lead into a commanding 38-20 advantage with about three minutes left in the first half. The Orangemen held a 40-28 lead, with the help of 10 points each from Santifer and Schayes, at the half and continued to pour it on after intermission with a fast-breaking offense. They mounted their lead to as many as 18 points.