By the time it was all over, Georgetown Coach John Thompson said Dwayne Washington's fight with Patrick Ewing "might have been the most exciting thing that happened in the game."
He probably was right. Nothing out of the ordinary happened after that. Top-ranked Georgetown, behind David Wingate's 16 points and Ewing's 15 points and 12 rebounds, beat 15th-ranked Syracuse, 74-65, in a Big East tournament semifinal tonight here at Madison Square Garden.
So, for the fourth time in the six-year existence of the Big East, Georgetown, the second seed, has advanced to the championship game, this time to meet second-ranked St. John's, which defeated Villanova, 89-74, in the other semifinal. Georgetown and St. John's, the top seed here, split regular-season games.
Billy Martin also scored 15 points for the Hoyas (29-2), Reggie Williams had 12 and 10 rebounds, and Michael Jackson had eight assists in another well-choreographed game from his position at point guard as Georgetown won its 11th straight.
But hardly anyone will remember the jumpers and dunks. What will stand out is the skirmish between Ewing and Washington six minutes into the game. Although Washington and Ewing joked about it afterward, the incident appeared very ugly.
The Hoyas were running a break and Ewing, seemingly in the normal course of jockeying for inside position, bumped Washington's body with his shoulder. As Wingate's jumper was falling through the net to tie the game, 10-10, 7-foot Ewing -- television replays showed -- was looking up for a possible rebound.
Washington, 6-2, punched Ewing, apparently in the ribs, with his fist. Ewing swung at Washington, but the punch didn't appear to land.
Washington's version differed. "I tried to get in front of him and his elbow hit me in the jaw," he said. "I reacted by hitting him somewhere around the ribs, and he reacted by hitting me in the jaw.
"What was I thinking? That was a long right hand. I was trying to step back, I'm not Ali. We each had emotional reactions, and that happens in a game like this. I want to make one thing perfectly clear, though. I don't think he cheap-shotted me or I cheap-shotted him. I know he didn't try to hurt me. I definitely wish it wouldn't have happened. We shook hands afterward. What did we say? The handshake did the talking."
Ewing, who came to the postgame press conference, indeed acted as if nothing had happened. He was booed loudly the rest of the game although it was clear Washington threw the first punch.
"What fight? What booing," Ewing said, getting a big laugh. "It's over with and I don't wish to get into anything about that."
When the game resumed, Ewing was hit with an intentional technical foul, Washington with a personal foul. The officials didn't clearly explain what foul Washington was committed. But as Ewing was down on one knee, being attended by Georgetown's trainer, they called something. Larry Lembo, who worked the game with Jody Sylvester and Tim Higgins, issued the following statement that raised more questions than it answered and totally confused those at courtside. "Pearl pushed Patrick, cocked his arm and looked to throw a punch."
Thompson said it was a good excuse for him to walk to the other end of the floor and get some much-needed exercise.
When play resumed, both players remained in the game. As Washington said, "I knew they weren't going to kick Patrick Ewing out of a basketball game, so I knew they couldn't kick me out, without kicking him out."
Rafael Addison, who led Syracuse (21-8) with 23 points, made the two technical foul shots. Wendell Alexis' short bank shot on the automatic possession put the Orangemen ahead, 14-10.
Syracuse led, 19-15, on a three-point play by Washington, who stole the ball to begin the sequence. But Martin made one free throw, then stole the ball to set up a jab-step, Connie Hawkins back-flip finger roll to pull the Hoyas to 19-18.
After Addison missed, Martin made a driving shot for a 20-19 lead with about eight minutes to play in the half. Georgetown extended that lead to 28-21 on Martin's dunk, Ewing's jumper, Williams' jumper and Wingate's rebound basket.
Georgetown's lead never dropped below four points thereafter. Consecutive baskets by Ewing, the second on a lob-pass from Jackson that had Ewing's hand at the top of the square, then cradling the ball for a dunk, put the Hoyas ahead, 58-46, with about six minutes left and the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Washington, for the game, scored 16 points. But he made only five of 13 shots and had only two assists to three turnovers.
"A lot of the shots he got were good shots that he just wasn't hitting," Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim said. "And we just weren't hitting the boards." (Georgetown held a 49-25 rebounding edge.)
"At times, we had three guys under the basket, three big guys, and let Reggie Williams get his own rebound," Boeheim said. "We haven't rebounded well for the last three or four games."
The Orangemen couldn't have been too disappointed. While they wanted to atone for last week's 27-point loss to Georgetown at Capital Centre, they still return home knowing an NCAA at-large bid will be forthcoming Sunday afternoon.
The Hoyas, meanwhile, went back to their rooms to prepare for Saturday's final against St. John's. Georgetown has never lost a Big East final, and are 3-0 against the Redmen in tournament play.