The season long fits of folly that seem to follow Georgetown like a curse against highly ranked teams came with less than 30 seconds left tonight in the quarterfinals of the Big East Conference tournament. Freshman guard Ashanti Cook tried to slip a pass to Mike Sweetney that got tipped away and No. 11 Syracuse soon was celebrating a 74-69 victory.
"He hit my hand," Sweetney said of Syracuse center Craig Forth, "and I lost the ball. My fault."
Forth's flick led to the ball ending in Syracuse guard Gerry McNamara's hands. And after being fouled with 20 seconds left he made the two free throws that lifted the Orangemen to a four-point lead and ensured their meeting the winner of the Connecticut-Seton Hall game in the semifinals.
"We've had a lot of practice at this," Coach Craig Esherick said as the Hoyas (15-14) await an almost-certain bid from the National Invitation Tournament.
The Hoyas played extremely well at times, as they had in taking Pittsburgh to the final possession on the road, Notre Dame into double overtime on the road and Syracuse into overtime less than two weeks ago at MCI Center.
Sweetney had 29 points, 13 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and 3 assists. Two freshmen, forward Brandon Bowman and Cook, also showed their potential and the Hoyas had more rebounds overall. But late problems on defense against Syracuse freshman Carmello Anthony (21 points on 17 shots) and some all-too-familiar erratic shooting from the outside hampered Georgetown.
"We were awesomely good sometimes," said Bowman. "But you've got to execute when it counts."
This was the first time Syracuse has beaten the Hoyas three times in a season, and Coach Jim Boeheim said, "That's just the way we've played all year long."
Georgetown led most of the game, but Syracuse gained the lead for good, 64-63, on Anthony's foul shots and soon upped the advantage to three on a follow by forward Hakim Warrick after Sweetney blocked Anthony's shot.
The Hoyas got within a point with 62 seconds left on Bowman's layup off a pass from point guard Drew Hall. Then Duany sank 1 of 2 free throws after Tony Bethel fouled him with the shot clock under 10 seconds to give Syracuse a 69-67 lead just before the Forth-Sweetney sequence.
Esherick and the Hoyas will vividly recall several late gaffes along with lots of poise. McNamara stripped Bethel as he was making a wild charge in traffic with three-plus minutes left and Cook had a dreadful shot that had no chance a minute or so earlier.
Also, Gerald Riley shot just 2 for 11. But Esherick said Riley had hurt his back in the victory over Villanova on Wednesday night.
Boeheim was irritated at the Orangemen at times, and was as flabbergasted as everyone else when McNamara, one of the best free throw shooters in the country, bricked two with three-plus minutes left.
The pace tonight was such an entertaining contrast to Wednesday's version of shot-clock stall ball by Villanova. Sweetney had more touches in these opening several minutes than he had in the entire first half against the Wildcats -- and the Hoyas matched their 20 first-half points on Villanova midway through the first period tonight.
The early play featured bursts from each team. With Anthony, Duany and McNamara contributing, the Orangemen gained an 11-4 lead. With Sweetney scoring on a follow-up of Riley's miss and a dunk to cap a half-court burst after intercepting a pass, the Hoyas had pulled into a tie slightly more than a minute later.
The individual brilliance included smallish Bethel bolting toward the 6-foot-8 Anthony and flicking the ball over him and off the backboard. The crowd was most energized, however, by two blocks from Syracuse's 6-8 Jeremy McNeil.
The Hoyas gained a 16-15 lead and stayed ahead for all but one possession for the remainder of the first half. Their largest margin was eight points, which Syracuse gradually whittled in half with 84 seconds left.