Simple and sweet, the Orange blush became the Orange crush again tonight.
Consequently, the No. 15 Georgetown Hoyas became history in this Big East Conference tournament.
With the restoration to the heights of its slumping senior stars, guard Erich Santifer and forward Leo Rautins, No. 20 Syracuse defeated Georgetown, 79-72, tonight before a sellout of 19,591 at Madison Square Garden.
For the Hoyas, the defending tournament champions, defeat now tranforms into a three-day wait to find out what fate the NCAA selection committee will deal them with its at-large tournament bids, which will be announced Sunday.
Asked if his Hoyas, now 21-9, deserve to be in the tournament, Georgetown Coach John Thompson told a postgame press conference, "Must we dwell on the obvious?"
The fifth-seeded Orangemen now will advance to the Big East tournament semifinals Friday at 9 p.m., when they will play Boston College, which defeated Seton Hall, 79-56, in tonight's final game. In the other semifinal Friday night, second-seeded Villanova, which defeated Connecticut, 69-68, this afternoon, will play third-seeded St. John's, which defeated Pittsburgh, 64-53, this afternoon.
For Syracuse (20-8) tonight's victory was made possible by Santifer's 23 points, Rautins' 18 points, freshman Rafael Addison's 17 points (12 in the first half when there were 10 lead changes) and a 65 percent field goal accuracy. The Orangemen, so accurate from afar tonight, expanded their 34-31 halftime lead with a 17-8 streak that gave them a 51-39 lead with 10:49 left.
With Rautins, a smart dribbler and 6-foot-8 passing wizard, looking over the heads of Georgetown's smaller, pressing guards, the Georgetown press was easily surmounted. Twice during the 17-8 streak, Rautins threw deep down court to Santifer for easy baskets. So Georgetown stopped pressing.
And started worrying. "We just couldn't catch them down the stretch," said Georgetown forward Bill Martin, held scoreless tonight.
The Hoyas, led by Patrick Ewing's 18 points, closed to within 56-51 with 6:16 left. Then, Syracuse went into a spread offense, made 13 of 16 of its free throws and that was that. History.
This victory opens several new and glorious tunnels for the Orange. First, an NCAA bid now seems likely. "I've said all along we deserve it," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. "But if any team needed a win tonight it was us."
Only three days ago--when Georgetown defeated Syracuse (80-75) for the second straight time this year--Boeheim said he was disappointed in Rautins and Santifer. "It was justified," said Santifer, seven of 11 from the field tonight. "But I didn't worry. I was just waiting for Thursday night at 7 o'clock."
Syracuse played a 2-3 zone for a majority of the game, often collapsing two players on Ewing. Back on Jan. 10, when Georgetown beat them, 97-92, at the Carrier Dome, the Orangemen dropped too many players inside against Ewing and Georgetown guard Michael Jackson responded with 31 points from outside. In Monday night's loss, the Orangemen kept too many players outside and Ewing scored 26 points.
Tonight, they played it just right. "You learn from experience," said Boeheim.
Hoyas' hopes tonight were nullified mostly by 17 Georgetown turnovers (of course, Syracuse committed 18).
In the early afternoon game, St. John's (25-4) scorched Pitt with a 15-0 streak midway through the first half. The Redmen hereby took a 28-15 lead with five minutes left in the half.
Poor Pitt (13-15) was never again within nine. "Take away that one streak . . . ," said Pitt Coach Roy Chipman.
Senior forward Billy Goodwin provided the necessities for St. John's. He scored a team-high 16 points, including six in the game-breaking streak, and had eight assists, most to guard Chris Mullin (13 points) and 7-foot center Bill Wennington (10 points).
Goodwin also held Clyde Vaughan, Pitt's 6-4 forward who leads the Big East in scoring (21.9 per game), to just nine points in the first half, which was, after all, when the game was decided. Vaughan finished ablaze with 23 points.
St. John's, which played a sharp 2-3 zone along with a man-to-man, survived for awhile without senior forward David Russell (11 points), who missed six minutes of the first half with stomach cramps.
"French toast, cheese omelet, bacon," Russell said of the breakfast that caused the cramps "sausage, some strawberries and some yogurt. Hey, I like a big breakfast."
In the late afternoon game, came a near-UConn miracle. But Villanova (22-6) shot 60 percent from the field as center John Pinone and guard Dwayne McClain both scored 18 points to cancel the UConn possibilities.
Fact is, though, UConn (12-16) scared the bejabbers out of Villanova. UConn guards Karl Hobbs (19 points) and Earl Kelley (18 points) led a second-half fury, in which UConn overcame a five-point halftime deficit and tied Villanova at 60 with 4:31 left.
"To tell you the truth I was a little concerned," said Pinone.
In the final two minutes though, Pinone scored on a tip-in, was fouled and made a three-point play, giving the 'Cats a 65-62 lead. Stewart Granger made three of four free throws (68-64 lead, with 34 seconds left).
After a driving spin shot by the 5-8 Hobbs made it 68-66 with 24 seconds left, Pinone made one free throw and the 'Cats let UConn score unmolested at the buzzer.
In the late game tonight, Seton Hall (6-23) actually led Boston College, 36-26, at halftime. "We just tried to stay positive in the locker room," said B.C. Coach Gary Williams.
Then came the flood. Boston College (23-5) kept the full-court press on and the Seton Hall charm wore off. B.C. was led by John Garris' 23 points and Jay Murphy's 17. Andre McCloud led Seton Hall with 16.