Georgetown Coach John Thompson was offended this week. He told his big men he was tired of hearing opposing players talk about how they would jump over Georgetown and take it inside now that Patrick Ewing had gone.
The big men were offended, too. They responded with, by far, their best inside play of the season last night and led the 15th-ranked Hoyas to a 73-70 victory over previously undefeated and fourth-ranked Syracuse in a magnificently played Big East game at Capital Centre.
"We have women in the room, so I can't tell you what I really said to the big men," Thompson said. "I told them I never had a team in my life that people said they would jump over and jump around . . . All four big men did a miraculous job."
Georgetown's inside dominance the second half became so contagious that the perimeter players caught on. Syracuse's 2-3 zone defense kept looking for the kind of perimeter play the Hoyas had shown all season, but the Georgetown players kept looking inside and scored five dunks in the final five minutes.
David Wingate's dunk off a lob pass by Michael Jackson gave Georgetown (12-3, 3-2 in the Big East) a 71-68 lead with 19 seconds left. And Wingate made two free throws with two seconds left for the final three-point margin as 18,164 created the most noise heard in the building all season.
The record will show that Wingate led Georgetown with 18 points and that Reggie Williams checked in with 17 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and zero turnovers in 38 minutes.
The numbers don't look that flashy for the inside players. But Georgetown certainly couldn't have handed Syracuse (13-1, 4-1) its first loss without Ralph Dalton, Grady Mateen, Johnathan Edwards and Ronnie Highsmith.
Special mention goes to Highsmith, who had played just five minutes in the previous four games but came in to score three baskets midway through the second half, two of which gave Georgetown the lead.
Highsmith entered the game primarily because Dalton, the starting center, and center/forward Edwards each had picked up his fourth foul. After Dwayne (Pearl) Washington (13 points, five assists) had hit a jumper to give Syracuse a 46-44 lead with 13 minutes to play, 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Highsmith took a pass in the lane, turned and shot a hook off the glass as if he'd been doing it in big games all his life.
Moments later, Highsmith went strong to the basket for a reverse layup (credit for the basket mistakenly was given to Williams) that gave Georgetown a 48-46 lead.
Highsmith did miss the front end of a one-and-one free throw set after Wendell Alexis (15 points, nine rebounds) made a jumper to tie the game. But Williams controlled the offensive rebound and shot a pass down the left base line that Highsmith threw straight down the net for a dunk that put the Hoyas ahead again, 50-48, with 11 minutes remaining.
Asked about his brief, but heroic stretch of offense against 6-10 Rony Seikaly, Highsmith said modestly: "I was fresh, he was tired."
Probably, it was moments like those that made Seikaly wilt. Seikaly had only two points and two rebounds in the second half, and eventually fouled out with just more than a minute to play.
Mateen, Dalton and Edwards were equally as effective, and sometimes as spectacular, down the stretch.
"I've been watching Georgetown all season and I haven't seen their big men make shots like that," said Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim. He also said that his zone was "stretched out" because he was concerned about the Hoyas' perimeter game. As a result, Georgetown worked the base line successfully late in the second half.
Syracuse had fallen behind, 54-48, as freshman Sherman Douglas from Spingarn High committed two turnovers that resulted in two Georgetown dunks and forced Boeheim to call two timeouts within 70 seconds. But Syracuse tied the game at 58 when Rafael Addison (16 points, four rebounds) scored a three-point play with 6:12 left. Dalton came back in for Highsmith, and made a hook to break the tie.
That was the start of a surreal sequence that saw each team score on five consecutive possessions.
Two of Georgetown's baskets came on vicious two-handed dunks by Edwards, the 6-8 freshman. And the Hoyas finally got the upper hand when Addison missed a jumper that could have tied the score with 1:50 left.
One move that probably will go unnoticed was Thompson's timeout with 1:22 to play and Georgetown ahead, 68-66. Many coaches would have waited until it was tied, or the opposing team led.
Thompson gathered his team, and ran a play straight at Seikaly, who had four fouls. Seikaly tried to block Dalton's dunk, and disqualified himself from the game. Only 73 seconds later, it was over.
Thompson had told his team at halftime that he would rather get blown out than settle for saying, "We played Syracuse close.
"We told them that if Syracuse beat us here it would be an upset. We should win at home. If they won it would be an upset."
What Thompson said during the week, however, might have been more important than what he said last evening.
After a 79-74 victory by St. John's over Georgetown Saturday in New York, the Redmen's 6-8 forward Walter Berry said now that Ewing was gone, he'd jump over anybody Georgetown could put on the floor.
"We called big-man practice this week," Thompson said.
The message from Thompson all week was clear: "I told them we could win this year from the perimeter, but we couldn't win big."