The Georgetown Hoyas, reacting positively to a halftime tongue-lashing from Coach John Thompson, scored their most satisfying victory of the season last night in beating Big East rival Syracuse, 62-57, before 4,617 energetic fans at McDonough Arena.
After leading by a point at half-time, 30-29, Georgetown roared to a 54-40 lead with slightly more than nine minutes to play. Thompson's team went into its delay game with seven minutes remaining, but had to abandon the strategy when it committed several turnovers and missed key free throws. As a result, Syracuse (9-4, 1-3 in the conference) crept to 57-53 on guard Marty Headd's long jumper with 4:02 to play.
"You can't run the delay if you don't hit free throws," Thompson said. "So we had to pull out of it."
Eric (Sleepy) Floyd, who scored 15 points, made the final Georgetown field goal with 4:39 remaining. But Eric Smith scored two free throws and sub Jeff Bullis, who had a superb 13-point game, sank three more foul shots in the final three minutes to give Georgetown (10-6, 3-1 in the conference) its third straight Big East victory and fifth straight over Syracuse.
"The thing I'm noticing is that the kids are starting to believe," said Thompson, who has maintained since November his team would have a rocky beginning before rounding into a good team. "They're sustaining their poise better . . . When a good team makes a run at you, like Syracuse did down the stretch, you can't panic. And they didn't tonight.
"They're now saying to themselves, instead of me having to say to them, 'Hey, just because we're up by 11 points with seven or eight minutes to play doesn't mean the game is over.' In one timeout late in tonight's game, Mike Hancock (11 points, six rebounds) said in the huddle that there was a lot of time to go and that to win, we had to play with poise. He wouldn't have said that at the beginning of the season."
But Thompson had all the say at halftime. He was irate because his team's zone defenses didn't stop the Orangemen's 6-foot-11 center, Dan Schayes, son of former NBA great Dolph Schayes, from scoring at will. Schayes, in the first 20 minutes, scored 16 points on five-for-six shooting from the field, including three slam dunks.
"I said some pretty strong things to them," said Thompson, "so the defensive plan we had implemented would be executed more aggressively. I told them Schayes was serving them lunch and dinner at the same time in the first half. He was hurting us too badly, scoring much too easily inside. But we played him much better in the second half."
The Hoyas tightened their belts and held Schayes to just one field goal and six points in the second half. "They cut off our inside mobility in the second half," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. "That was the difference."
The other difference was the sparkling performance of 6-7 reserve forward Bullis. He entered the game midway through the first quarter and scored 10 first-half points. Bullis also was important in the Hoyas' successful defense against Schayes in the second 20 minutes.
"We pulled our zone defenses in," Bullis said, "and in effect played a matchup zone, or a combination of a man-to-man and zone. Everybody collapsed on him inside. Schayes had more than his fair share in the first half. Coach Thompson wasn't real happy about that.
"But he was right to be upset. The team saw eye to eye with what he was saying. Schayes was throwing down dunks left and right at the beginning (12 of the first 14 Syracuse points) and that can't go."