Less than 30 minutes had passed since 12th-ranked Georgetown completed its biggest victory of the season, a 61-53 win over No. 10 Pittsburgh that gave the Hoyas sole possession of first place in the Big East, and already Coach John Thompson III was looking ahead.
"We have to go back to school, and start to get ready for Syracuse. Then get on the plane [Sunday] and go up to Syracuse. Then play Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Monday," Thompson said on Saturday afternoon.
"So, yes, we put ourselves in a [good] position, but the same is still true. [Former Princeton Coach Pete] Carril is here, and there's one thing you learn playing for him and working for him, it's one game at a time. . . . There's a couple of games left to be played, against very good teams. One of them 48 hours or so from now. Away."
And it comes in an arena where the Hoyas have had little success recently. Georgetown hasn't beaten Syracuse inside the Carrier Dome since a 75-69 victory on Feb. 24, 2002; that is the Hoyas' only win there since the start of the 1995-96 season (an eight-game span).
The Hoyas are 22-5 (12-2 in the Big East), have an 11-game winning streak and should move into the top 10 when the national polls are released later this afternoon. With a win over Syracuse (20-8, 9-5) tonight, Georgetown will clinch at least a share of the Big East regular season title, as well as the top seed in the conference tournament. The Hoyas have already assured themselves of a first-round bye (their first since 2001) when the Big East tournament begins on March 7 at Madison Square Garden.
No major conference team has won more games on the road this season than Georgetown, which is 9-2 away from home. Being able to play well on the road is an important skill to have at this time of the year, because there are no home games in the NCAA tournament.
"It's just being focused," junior guard Jonathan Wallace said. "You kind of have the odds against you, when you face a tough team on the road such as Syracuse. They've got a lot of tradition on their home court, and we've got to be focused coming into the game and be ready to take care of things that we're good at doing."
Georgetown is 20-14 on the road in Thompson's tenure, and some of its most memorable wins have come away from Verizon Center.
Thompson's first Big East victory came at Pittsburgh; the Hoyas upset the 16th-ranked Panthers in January 2005, and became only the second conference team to win inside the Petersen Events Center. Ten days later, Georgetown beat Villanova, 66-64, ruining the 20th anniversary celebration of the Wildcats' 1985 championship victory over the Hoyas.
During the 2006 NCAA tournament, Georgetown upset second-seeded Ohio State in a second-round game that was played in Dayton, only 75 miles away from Columbus. The University of Dayton Arena was filled with screaming, scarlet-clad Buckeyes fans, yet the Hoyas remained poised. They opened up an early lead and put together one of their most balanced, efficient performances under Thompson.
"We have to get used to it," junior center Roy Hibbert said of playing on the road. "We're used to playing in hostile environments."
Over the past two seasons, Thompson has made a point of scheduling difficult nonconference road trips in order to prepare his team for visits to Big East arenas like the Carrier Dome, where Syracuse averages a league-high 21,236 fans.
Last season, the Hoyas played at Oregon (where they snapped the Ducks' 35-game nonconference winning streak at McArthur Court) and at Illinois (where they lost by 10 in front of a raucous capacity crowd of 16,618 inside Assembly Hall). This season, they visited Vanderbilt (an 86-70 victory in Memorial Gym, where the Commodores have beaten Alabama and Florida), Duke (a 61-52 loss) and Michigan (a 67-51 win in front of 13,751).
Those experiences paid off when the Hoyas faced big crowds in wins at Louisville and Villanova.
"We've been in this environment," Thompson said after Georgetown's 73-65 win at Louisville on Feb. 7. "You go to Duke, go to Vanderbilt, go to Michigan -- we thought it would help pay off this time of year."