If the Georgetown Hoyas could script a game against Syracuse, it would look much like their game last night. They kept Billy Owens under control. The score was low, the pace usually was slow and the shooting percentages were subarctic. The Orangemen even contributed their customary late-game misses from the free throw line.
Yet No. 6 Syracuse escaped. Georgetown's rally from an 11-point, second-half deficit disintegrated with a disastrous final sequence, and the Orangemen grabbed their third straight victory over the 21st-ranked Hoyas, 58-56, before 19,035 at Capital Centre.
Georgetown (11-5, 3-3 in the Big East) had a chance to tie the game -- or win it with a three-pointer -- in the last eight seconds. The Hoyas tried to go to Alonzo Mourning, but he was surrounded.
So he passed to Ronny Thompson, whose hurried, off-balance jump shot from deep on the right wing missed everything. Dikembe Mutombo's follow shot missed. Still, the Hoyas had another opportunity when the Orangemen lost the ball out of bounds. But Mutombo's tip of Thompson's lob on the inbounds pass from under the basket rolled tantalizingly off the rim.
"It was frustrating to lose when we had a lot of chances to win," Mourning said. "Neither team played too well. . . . We just didn't take advantage of the opportunities we had."
The Orangemen (17-2, 5-2) won for a second consecutive time at Capital Centre, that after losing their first nine games there after the Big East was formed. They took over first place in the league despite Coach Jim Boeheim's claim that they "could just as easily be 2-5" in the conference.
"We haven't played well, and we didn't really play well again," Boeheim said. "This team has just found ways to win all year. . . . Georgetown made us play their game, and we did just enough to sneak away with one."
Forward Dave Johnson led Syracuse with 18 points, and Owens -- under the nearly ceaseless harassment of Georgetown reserve forward Brian Kelly in the second half -- contributed 13 points and eight rebounds despite shooting five of 15 from the field and missing four of five free throws.
The Orangemen shot 40 percent, with their salvation being eight three-pointers (in 14 tries), seven of which came during a first half in which they established control early.
"At the beginning of the game, they shot the ball much better than I thought they'd shoot," Hoyas Coach John Thompson said. "I thought that set the tone."
Georgetown led just twice, 2-0 and 4-3. The Hoyas' downfall came from a familiar woe: They couldn't score from the outside with Syracuse sagging on Mourning and Mutombo inside. Georgetown made 23 of 56 shots -- with freshmen guards Joey Brown and Charles Harrison a combined nine of 23 -- and the Hoyas often stuggled to mesh their two big men into the attack.
"We were just a little off all night," Brown said. "We didn't get enough motion in our offense, and we didn't really get the ball to the big guys in good spots. We just struggled."
Harrison led the Hoyas with 12 points and Brown had 11. Mutombo provided nine points and 18 rebounds, Mourning nine points and five rebounds over 24 minutes in his second game since returning from the arch injury that sidelined him for all but one game in six weeks.
"They didn't really have it all together yet," Boeheim said. "They have to get Alonzo back incorporated into things. I think they'll probably improve more than anyone in the league from here until the end of the season.
"They just didn't shoot the ball well. I don't know how much of it was our defense and how much of it was just their shooting."
The Hoyas uncharacteristically began in a zone, conceding they probably could not match up with Owens and Johnson on the perimeter. Syracuse quickly shot them out of it, though, as Johnson and sophomore guard Mike Hopkins each connected on a pair of three-pointers in the opening four minutes. And freshman guard Adrian Autry's three-point play gave the Orangemen a 15-7 lead.
Syracuse led by 10 in the half, bothering Georgetown with occasional full-court pressure and continuing to connect from afar. By the intermission, the Orangemen had hit seven of 10 three-point attempts but just three of 15 two-pointers.
Kelly had harassed Owens into two charging fouls and a couple of ill-advised shots, but Georgetown was unable to capitalize.
"I'm not Superman," Owens said. Kelly "played a good defensive game, and a lot of things the refs let him get away with."
Johnson's dunk gave Syracuse a 46-35 lead with 14:23 remaining, but a 14-4 run brought Georgetown within 50-49 at the 7:18 mark. Hopkins's three-pointer restored the lead to six with just over three minutes left, and then the Hoyas made one final push after Owens missed four straight foul shots.
Said Mourning: "We played hard. We just didn't play all that well."