After a first half spent in the icebox, the Georgetown Hoyas played the second half afire last night, stoking the tempo with the same fury that incinerated Villanova two days earlier.
Consequently, the No. 16 Hoyas revived from an eight-point halftime deficit to defeat burned-out No. 18 Syracuse, 80-75, before 13,162 at Capital Centre.
Dominance rested in the palm of Georgetown's 7-foot Patrick Ewing, who scored 26 points (10 of 16 from the field), got 13 rebounds and led the Hoyas' 20-5 hurricane at the outset of the second half that left the Orangemen gasping for air and trailing, 50-43, with 15:16 to play.
Syracuse moved within 69-66 with 4:21 left, behind the shooting of center Andre Hawkins (15 points) and reserve forward Sean Kerins (eight points).
At this juncture, though, the Hoyas began to dawdle away the Syracuse breathing space in a spread offense. With guard Georgetown guard Michael Jackson (17 points, 11 of 12 free throws), forward Bill Martin (11 points) and guard Gene Smith (season-high 12 assists) all maintaining the Georgetown composure, the Hoyas' lead spread, too: 77-70 with 1:44 left.
Close the book on this game.
And shut the book on the Big East Conference regular season. So now Georgetown rests at 21-8 overall, finishing a fourth-place 10-5 in the conference. Syracuse, which earlier seemed like a conference master, now quivers and coughs with a 19-8 overall record and a fifth-place 9-7.
Don't, however, close the book on Syracuse versus Georgetown. The Orangemen will face the Hoyas in the Big East tournament Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
Now, about the relevance of last night's Georgetown victory: "This is like a lame-duck game," said GU Coach John Thompson. "Really, it's a hard game for the kids to see. Everyone knows that the big game is on Thursday night."
This could have been a game of vast significance, even utter doom, for Georgetown. With 6:50 to play, Hoyas leading, 65-60, Ewing dived into a pile of bodies in pursuit of a loose ball underneath the Georgetown basket. He banged his left knee against the floor and remained down, in pain, for several meaningful moments.
With assistance from the trainer, Ewing hobbled to the Georgetown bench. He sat there for 2:42 and--voila!--became healed enough to return with Georgetown still holding that three-point lead with 4:21 left.
Afterward, Ewing didn't want to discuss the injury. Thompson did, saying, "I think he's fine. I don't think it's a serious injury."
What was serious last night, though, was the complete surrender put forth by Syracuse's two normally-sterling stars: forward Leo Rautins and guard Erich Santifer. Rautins made just one of five shots, scoring four points, and sat out key minutes of the second half because of his futility. Santifer made only two of 10 shots, scoring six points and admitted, "I can't get in the flow and I can't pinpoint why."
Syracuse, which still might not have a lock on an NCAA tournament bid, already had things bad enough even before the opening tip. Forward Tony Bruin, another crucial Orangeman, did not play last night because of a sprained right ankle.
"I was very disappointed in Rautins and Santifer," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. "I was most concerned by their lack of effort . . . They had a negative effect on the game with bad shots, bad defensive positioning. My feeling is if your seniors are playing like that you might as well not have them in the game."
Syracuse led, 38-30, at halftime. The Orange seemed in control: they shot 58 percent from the field, thereby forcing the Hoyas to change from a zone defense to a man to man. Freshman forward Wendell Alexis scored all 12 of his points during this time. Further, the Orange outrebounded the Hoyas, 21-10; they also outran the Hoyas.
The Hoyas' kept close by relying on Smith's seven assists, most of them into the lane to Ewing, who split between Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense for numerous jumpers.
How frigid and lackadaisical were the Hoyas during the first half? Told he had seven assists in the first half alone, Gene Smith said with a quizzical look and coy smile, "Hmmm . . . And Coach told me at halftime that I was playing dumb."
The Hoyas then shellacked the Orangemen at the start of the second half. The aggressiveness from the Villanova game returned to their full-court press, their half-court offense, their demeanor. "We came out smoking," said Ewing.
With eyes fixed on the Big East future, Thompson said, "I don't think we played well enough to be overconfident."