Georgetown softened up defensive-minded Fresno State with some uncanny outside shooting in the first half before freshman center Patrick Ewing made the inside baskets that knocked Fresno State out of the NCAA basketball tournament, 58-40, in the West Regional semifinals tonight.
Lester Conner, held to eight points in an embarrassing 22-point loss to Idaho early this season, scored 24 tonight against the Big Sky champions and led Oregon State to a 60-42 victory in the opening game of the doubleheader at Marriott Center.
Top-seeded Georgetown (28-6) plays second-seeded Oregon State (25-4) for the regional championship at 2:55 p.m. EST Saturday, the winner advancing to the national semifinals against the Mideast Regional champion March 27 in New Orleans.
Georgetown, which shot a regional-record 64 percent tonight, was 11 for 16 at halftime. All but three of those baskets came from 15 feet or farther. Ewing had three points at halftime. He scored 12 of Georgetown's first 17 points in the second half to give the Hoyas a 44-34 lead in this slow-paced game.
Eric Floyd led Georgetown scoring with 16 points, but Ewing had 15 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. His second-half statistics: 12 points, four rebounds, two blocked shots. The 7-footer impressed a crowd of 15,237, including the Oregon State players, who left with half-smiles on their faces.
"He (Ewing) was extremely tough on us," said Fresno State Coach Grant Boyd, whose team managed only seven field goals in the final 20 minutes. "We took a couple of shots in the second half, and he blocked them. That's like a turnover. He intimidated us a little."
A lot might be more like it. In a five-minute span, Ewing scored six straight points, had two rebounds, a blocked shot and a steal. His third basket, a dunk off a perfect lob pass, gave the Hoyas a 42-34 lead with 7:31 to play.
"Patrick started to move more and we went inside to him," said Hoya Coach John Thompson. "They (Fresno State) were putting so much pressure on the perimeter, trying to steal every pass, we had to go inside."
Ewing said, "We were hitting so well from the outside in the first half that it opened things up for me in the second half. I moved more, and I guess they didn't box me off as good as they did early in the game. We did a better job on the boards in the second half, too. Maybe we just play better in the second half."
The Hoyas have become a marvelous second-half team. For the sixth straight game, Georgetown held its opponents to eight second-half field goals or fewer. Fresno State got three baskets in the first five minutes of the second half, the last one resulting in a three-point play, as the Bulldogs (27-3) closed to within a point, 31-30. They never came closer.
The Pacific Coast Athletic Association champions, the nation's No. 1-ranked team on defense (47.6 points per game), could manage only four field goals in the final 14:14 against Georgetown's tall, tight zone defense. In between the rare baskets by Fresno State, Ewing, enjoying a five-inch height advantage over the Bulldogs, made five baskets--four of them dunks. Eric Floyd made three baskets, and Georgetown took a 44-34 lead with 6:24 to play.
"They made some mistakes in the second half, and we took advantage of them," said Hoya guard Fred Brown, who scored eight of his team's final 14 points to ensure the win. "We adjusted to what they were doing in a hurry and went inside to Patrick. They were sagging, and the guards ran around a lot helping each other. But they got a little tired. Once we got up, you knew what we were going to do. Hold the ball and let them come after us. Get to that foul line."
Once there, the Hoyas made their last 12 free throws.
Rod Higgins led Fresno State with 12 points. He scored his team's first basket of the second half and did not score again; he was the only Bulldog in double figures.
"We just played better defense against them, forced them to take shots they didn't want," Brown said. "We put up a few baby shots and let Patrick take over the inside."
In the first game, Oregon State led by six points at halftime and increased its advantage to 39-29 before Idaho (27-3) could blink. Once in control, the Beavers went to a spread offense with 15 minutes remaining.
The strategy worked perfectly. Idaho was too slow and never came close to stealing a pass from the confident, smooth-passing Beavers. Each time Idaho left the lane open, either Conner, who had 10 rebounds and five assists, or William Brew would drive down the middle and pass off to Charlie Sitton, who was wide open. The 6-8 sophomore--who finished with 16 points--scored back-to-back baskets, one of them becoming a three-point play, and Conner tipped in his own missed shot as the Beavers took their largest lead, 46-31, with 9:55 to play.