It wasn't long ago that the Syracuse Orangemen were so bad at three-point shots, Coach Jim Boeheim declared a temporary moratorium on trying them.

Last night, the sixth-ranked Orangemen were shooting so well from three-point territory they tried 10 three-pointers in the first half alone. They made seven and went on to defeat 21st-ranked Georgetown, 58-56, at Capital Centre.

"Was I surprised?" Boeheim asked. "I was definitely surprised. Usually we don't make any. I didn't think we could make seven."

And guess what? Syracuse finished the game with eight three-pointers in 14 tries. To give that a little perspective, take a look at how the Orangemen did on two-pointers: three of 15 in the first half, 11 of 33 overall.

"We weren't expecting that," Hoyas junior forward Alonzo Mourning said.

Junior forward Dave Johnson led the unexpected performances, although his successes are becoming increasingly common. Just another sky-walker off Syracuse's bench before this season, Johnson scored a game-best 18 points -- two below his average on a night when the Orangemen as a team were about 30 points below their average.

"That's very surprising," Mourning said. "He wasn't really a contributor last year."

But this season, Johnson is a main reason why Syracuse is 17-2 overall, 5-2 and in first place in the Big East.

"He's easily the most improved player in a year that I've ever had, and probably -- if you had to argue -- that I've ever seen," Boeheim said. "He just plays so much smarter this year. He has worked on his shooting, so his shooting is better.

"But his whole game is better. He's finishing plays he didn't finish last year. He's playing good defense and making good, solid plays every game, game in and game out."

Johnson averaged 4.2 points per game as a freshman and 6.5 last season. He was used almost exclusively against man-to-man defenses, and the alley-oop dunk shot was just about the only one he could be counted on to make with any regularity. Now, he is taking the pressure off Billy Owens.

Owens, who averaged 29.5 points in two games against Georgetown last season, scored just 13 last night on five-of-15 shooting from the field. His one-for-five shooting from the free throw line during the final four minutes helped give the Hoyas a chance to win.

With the departures of Derrick Coleman, Stevie Thompson and the transfers of Tony Scott and Richard Manning, "I think that I had to step up this year," Johnson said. "The years before, we had such great players, it was kind of like you had to wait your turn. I'm not surprised by my play. I've put a lot of hard work into it.

"But when you come into a program of this magnitude, everybody can't just come in like Billy Owens or Alonzo Mourning and be an instant impact player. You have to play a role."

That's what reserve forward Mike Hopkins is doing. Before last night's game, he was averaging 14 minutes and four points. But when Georgetown opened the game in a zone defense, he didn't stay on the bench for long.

Boeheim used him for 14 minutes in the first half and 12 in the second. He responded with nine points on three-of-three shooting from three-point territory, helping Syracuse get by when its turbo-charged running game never really got going.

"It's a new look, but it's also great for our team," Hopkins said.

But wouldn't the Orangemen still rather be running than setting up and shooting three-pointers?

"Definitely," Hopkins said, grinning widely. "Definitely."