Virginia Men 79, Georgetown 75
-- On a day when University of Virginia supporters focused on the school's football bowl game, the men's basketball players proved worthy of attention by clinging to a 79-75 win over previously unbeaten Georgetown in front of 8,251 at University Hall.
There was a smattering of empty seats, perhaps vacated by fans who made the trip to Charlotte to watch Virginia upset West Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl. But just about all the seats were unoccupied in the heady final minutes, when an on-their-feet crowd, egged on by arm-waving sophomore forward Elton Brown, helped carry the team to victory in front of a national television audience.
But in beating Georgetown for the seventh time in the past nine meetings, the Cavaliers could have done without the dramatic finish. They squandered a 14-point lead in the final 71/2 minutes and briefly fell behind before Brown made a turnaround jumper over Georgetown senior center Wesley Wilson to put Virginia back on top with 2 minutes 24 seconds left.
"Beating them and taking it to them that good, I think we can do the same thing in the ACC," said Brown, who was on crutches this week and was surprised to play today. But "we have to learn to take care of leads.
"Beating Georgetown, beating Rutgers. That's the sign of a good team. I really think this team right here is going to be real good."
Virginia (7-2) made five of six free throws in the final 38 seconds to stave off a Georgetown team that hoisted some hasty shots after an inside basket by Wilson had pulled Georgetown (7-1) to within one with 55 seconds left.
By that time, Hoyas junior forward Mike Sweetney, the team's leading scorer and rebounder, was long gone. Sweetney, who had strained a hamstring in practice Wednesday, played just 15 minutes today, after picking up two fouls in the first two minutes of the game. He notched his fifth with 6:26 left and his team trailing by 12.
Wilson also battled foul trouble. These personnel setbacks, in part, prompted Georgetown Coach Craig Esherick to chastise one of the officials in his postgame news conference, not in response to a question but delivered as a carefully worded jab.
"I think that it's interesting that the Big Ten can even think about suspending [Indiana Coach] Mike Davis for six games for running out on the floor, and I have to keep my mouth shut after the job one particular referee did today," Esherick said. "I can't say anything. I'm not allowed to say a word. . . . It bothers the heck out of me. . . .
"I feel bad for [Virginia Coach Pete Gillen] that I'm saying this. I don't want to take anything away from Virginia. Nothing. But I'm not too happy right now."
The Cavaliers were frowning early on, when they committed six turnovers in the first five minutes to quickly fall behind by six. "They came out early and stunned us," Gillen said. But shortly after the winning bowl score was announced, the Cavaliers seemed to catch a spark, thanks in part to Brown and his bench cohorts, who combined for 25 of the team's 36 first-half points to help spur a six-point lead by the break.
To start the second half, Virginia made a concerted effort to work the ball inside to senior forward Travis Watson (41 career double-doubles), who did not start the game because of an ankle injury that kept him out of the team's Dec. 21 win at Rutgers. Watson scored six of his team's first 11 points of the second half, but it was sophomore guards Devin Smith and Keith Jenifer who keyed an 11-1 run that swelled the lead.
No opponent had shot better than 41 percent against the Hoyas this season, but the Cavaliers topped 50 percent in each half and made seven of 14 three-point attempts. And this was with the team's leading scorer, junior guard Todd Billet, not making a field goal.
"Our problem was transition defense," said Esherick, whose team was playing its first road game of the season. "I really didn't think we did a good job of getting back during the segments when they built a lead both in the first and second half. I thought we left them open in transition too much.
"We were down 14 and we could have quit. And we did not. That's a really good sign. . . . I thought we did a really good job of playing without Mike today. There were segments of that game when I thought we actually played better without Mike in the game."
Georgetown freshman guard Ashanti Cook scored all six of his points in the final 4:23, including a three-pointer and two more on a nifty baseline move that tied the score at 70.