In a 40-minute struggle that saw the opposing coaches nearly come to blows, Syracuse was pushed to its competitive limit by 17,000 avid fans in the Carrier DemiDome and won its biggest game of the year, 67-53, over Georgetown in the Big East Conference tournament semifinals tonight.
The victory enabled the Orangemen to advance to Saturday's 3:30 p.m. championship game (WRC-TV-4) against Villanova, which fought off upstart Providence, 58-49, in overtime in tonight's opening game.
Despite the loss, Georgetown Coach John Thompson, who had a nasty shouting match with Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim in the first half, said his Hoyas (20-11) "absolutely" expect to receive an at-large bid Sunday to the 48-team NCAA tournament.
Tonight, the Hoyas gave up too many easy inside baskets to Tony Bruin (19 points), Leo Rautins (18) and Erich Santifer (16) as those three players shot a combined 21 for 28. Syracuse made 69 percent for the game, while GU hit only 46 percent.
With Syracuse senior guard Marty Headd, the team's best outside shooter, out of the lineup with a broken wrist he suffered Monday in practice, the Orangemen figured to have trouble scoring against the usually tight Hoya 2-3 zone defense. But they made most of their points on layups in the transition game before the Hoyas could set up defensively. Of Syracuse's 24 field goals; 16 were layups.
The Hoyas led, 44-42, midway through the second half, but were foiled on a bid to tie the game at 50, when Bruin blocked a Gene Smith layup attempt and recovered the ball.
Bruin passed downcourt to Rautins, who scored a layup for a 52-48 Syracuse lead with 2:48 left to play. From there, Syracuse (17-11), the sixth-place finisher in the regular season of the well-balanced conference, made nine of 11 free throws for the final bulge.
Rautins, a sophomore transfer from Minnesota, turned in a magical performance, making nine of 12 shots for 18 points. He sank his first seven field-goal attempts and helped the Oragemen burst to leads of 14-4 and 20-11 early in the game.
But Eric Floyd, who put on a dazzling offensive performance, scored 10 of his game-high 26 points in last seven minutes of the first half to bring the Hoyas within three, 31-28, at intermission.
Georgetown, which lost here to the Orangemen by two points last month, tied the game, 39-39, on Floyd's slam dunk five minutes into the second half. Floyd's 22-footer tied it at 42 three minutes later, and his 12-foot shot after a spinning move into the lane gave the Hoyas their only lead, 44-42, with less nine minutes left.
"I'm very surprised we could win with Sleepy Floyd going like that," Boeheim said. "He's the best shooter I've ever seen when he gets it going." b
Eric Smith missed two foul shots that could have put GU up by four, and Bruin burned the Hoyas for two quick layups and a free throw after being fouled on the first, to put Syracuse back in front for good, 47-44.
Even with the Orangemen dominating inside play, Georgetown could have tied it had Gene Smith been able to throw in that layup attempt after Eric Smith's steal.
"I was going to try and cut Gene off from the basket," Bruin explained. "But he had beaten me there. So I stuck my hand in and got the ball as he began to come up into his shooting motion."
The Thompson-Boeheim confrontation came near the end of the first half when Thompson went down his bench to midcourt to hold a quick, private huddle with Floyd, who was dribbling, and Eric Smith, while play was in progress.
Boeheim dashed to the scorers' table, a few feet from Thompson, and began complaining to one official about Thompson being too far away from the bench. He and Thompson explained heated words, with some profanity, and pointed at each other. Two officials had to step between them. The two talked calmly at halftime.
"Before the game," said Boeheim, "the refs told us we could not come to halfcourt. I came over to remind the official of where Thompson was standing. That's my job."
Thompson, who charmed a large press gathering in a colorful 10-minute conference, said: "I was angry. This was not a social circle. It was a tournament basketball game and emotions were high. Didn't you see us kiss and make up at halfcourt."