Iowa, a poised team that has made the second-half comeback commonplace this season, rallied from 14 points down today and nipped Georgetown, 81-80, on center Steve Waite's three-point play with five seconds left in the NCAA East Regional final.
Iowa ended Georgetown's 15-game winning streak and advanced to Indianapolis for Saturday's national semi-final game against Lousiville. The Hawkeyes scored on 15 of their final 16 possessions, holding the ball almost two minutes for the winning shot.
Waite's basket was set up when Georgetown's Eric Smith and Eric Floyd collided trying to steal Iowa's inbounds pass, after a timeout, with 14 seconds to play. Kevin Boyle then dribbled to the lane area and passed off to his left, to the 6-foot-10 Waite near the baseline.
Waite, who scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half, faked Georgetown center Ed Spriggs to the baseline. Then he spun around him into the lane and to the basket, where Craig Shelton, coming over to help out, fouled him. After two Georgetown timeouts, Waite made his free throw, giving Iowa an 81-78 lead.
"Kevin had the ball and he passed it to me," Waite said. "My first thought was to pass it back again but I didn't know how much time was left. I figured we'd shoot with four or five seconds left so we could get a rebound if we didn't make it. But I saw a huge gap and I went in and I was fortunate enought to get it."
"It was my fault," said Spriggs, assigned to cover Waite in Georgetown's man-to-man alignment at the end. "You're supposed to stop the guy from penetrating and he got around me. I had to fight to get down to him. He gave me a fake and went around me . . . He got by me so fast."
Georgetown Coach John Thompson set up a final play for Georgetown. John Duren looped a pass to Mike Frazier, who was supposed to lean in on his jumper in an attempt to draw a foul and a possible three-point play.
But all Georgetown got was a follow-up basket, off Frazier's miss, by reserve Jeff Bullis with less than one second remaining. The Hoyas managed to stop the clock with another timeout, but as soon as Boyle's inbounds pass touched Ronnie Lester's hands, the final buzzer sounded.
It sent home a Georgetown team that got 31 points from Floyd and shot 68 percent the second half, but still was beaten by the fourth-place finisher from the Big Ten Conference.
"Iowa was very patient, didn't rattle and chose their shots well," Thompson said. "Based on the circumstances, we played as well as we could have. But when a team shoots as well as they did over the top of a zone, there is nothing you can do."
After a second half in which Iowa shot 71 percent (17 of 24), made all 15 of its free throws and committed just one turnover, Georgetown captain Duren said, "I've got no embarrassment because we lost. They're a good team. They can beat a whole lot of great teams. Its unfortunate we lost by one, but somebody had to lose. They're a great team the way they kept their composure."
Iowa played solid man-to-man defense for the most part, but found itself trailing, 46-32, early in the second half and was still 10 points down, at 64-54, with less than 11 minutes remaining.
"We had to beat one of the best teams we've seen all year long," said Iowa Coach Lute Olson. "They shot the lights out. We were wondering if they were ever going to miss. As far as our club goes, this was a typical effort. It typifies the entire season. They refuse to give up under any circumstances."
This was the third time in the last five games Iowa had shot better than 70 percent in the second half to win.
"We were wondering when we were going to close the gap," Boyle admitted afterward. "But we've faced it before and we fought back."
For almost seven minutes, Iowa would cut the lead, to as few as six points, only to have Georgetown retaliate, usually with Floyd or Shelton, who finished his Georgetown career with 16 points.
It was 66-60 with nine minutes to play when Iowa's patience finally was rewarded. The next six possessions were Georgetown's worst stretch of the game -- two turnovers, a missed bonus free throw opportunity by Shelton and Spriggs losing control of the ball on a slam dunk attempt.
At the same time, Iowa was taking advantage of a faster tempo as the Hawkeyes began to press full court. Olson said the faster tempo benefited his team because Georgetown was not able to spread its offense and isolate Floyd one on one, as the Hoyas had done so well all day.
Iowa scored on 15 of its final 16 possessions. A 17-foot jumper by Bob Hansen tied the game at 70.
Now the large Iowa contingent in the Spectrum crowd of 15,981 began yelling louder. Spriggs followed a Floyd miss with two free throws, but Waite countered with two free throws and the score was tied at 72, with 5:02 to play.
Boyle made the defensive play of the game on Georgetown's next possession, stealing a Floyd pass -- his only turnover of a magnificent individual effort -- and dribbled to a layup at the other end.
"He just short-cut the pass, stole the ball and took it in for a layup," a physically and emotionally drained Floyd said afterward.
"They began passing the ball passively and didn't come to get it," said Boyle, an observation with which Thompson disagreed.
That play gave Iowa its first lead since early in the first half and meant, as the teams began to match baskets at 74, 76 and 78 -- that Iowa held the upper hand in what was now a chess game.
Georgetown also had its defensive problems because Ronnie Lester -- with nine assists and no turnovers despite a bad right knee that slows him to three-quarter speed -- ran his team's offense so efficiently that Spriggs said, "They just keep coming; I don't know what to say."
Thompson said he had a dilemma defensively, because of Georgetown foul problems but mainly because of the way Iowa was shooting from the field and from the foul line.
"When they're shooting that way and it's a one-and-one situation, you really can't go after them and apply the pressure you want," he said. "You've got to be a little bit more apprehensive about it, particularly if you're leading."
At the end, Thompson said he almost decided to switch to a zone defense, "but I was a little afraid the way they were shooting. I started to, but no . . . I didn't want them to get a pop shot over it."
Iowa ran its regular man-to-man offense and did not predetermine the shooter of its last shot. Once Floyd and Smith collided, Boyle was able to penetrate and pass off to Waite. That ended Georgetown's season at 26-6.
"You feel bad," Thompson said, "but you feel proud of what the kids have done. We gave it our shot. It wasn't intended to be for us this year. But we'll be back."