After trailing 40-37 at halftime and overcoming several attempts of shooting itself in the foot, Georgetown advanced to the Big East tournament semifinals by beating top-seeded, No. 3 Syracuse in the quarterfinals Thursday, 91-84, at Madison Square Garden.
This game was evenly matched throughout, not like the two previous regular season games that Syracuse won both at home and on the road.
However, the game probably turned in favor for the Hoyas when Syracuse’s starting center Arinze Onuaku fell down after bumping knees with Georgetown’s Greg Monroe, never to return with four minutes left in the second half.
Also, key shots made by Monroe (15 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists), guard Chris Wright (game-high 27 points on 10-of-16 field goal shooting), and guard Austin Freeman (18 points) were enough to get past pesky Syracuse, which was still within four points of tying the game, 85-81, with 51.5 seconds left on a Kris Joseph three-pointer off a Georgetown turnover.
The Orange maintained their lead from the first half on good transition baskets and timely inside-outside plays by Joseph (18 points), fifth-year senior Andy Rautins (14 points, 4-of-9 on three-pointers), and 2010 Big East Player of the Year Wes Johnson, who finished with 24 points but fouled out close to the end of the game.
A shift in the overall outcome of the game occurred when the Hoyas locked down on Rautins, preventing him from scoring on the perimeter at will and forcing the Orange to rely on its swingmen (Johnson, Joseph, and Scoop Jardine) and big men (Onuaku and Rick Jackson) to get by the battle-tested Hoyas.
That strategy worked, as it was in the second half that the Hoyas scored 54 points to the Orange’s 44, seeming to capitalize on rare turnovers by Syracuse. Georgetown avoided Syracuse’s vaunted half-court press and converted on easy layups and threes as well.
The Washington, D.C. school showed poise and patience in their second Big East tourney game, riding on the good fortunes of yesterday’s 69-49 blowout over star Dominique Jones and the South Florida Bulls.
Their composure was necessary today, as it erred in the last 300 seconds, either by failing to make some critical free throws or by turning the ball over, giving the upstate New York team a chance to close in on the Georgetown lead several times down the stretch.
The win gives the Hoyas validation in earning a high spot in next week’s NCAA Tournament, winning its third game in a row after the team rebounded from the temporary sidelining of Freeman, who was recently diagnosed with diabetes.
Despite the diagnosis, Freeman’s play has not seemed extremely affected since his return in the regular season finale against Cincinnati, as he has averaged 19.3 points in the last three games.
The loss casts doubt though on the Orange, who barely had time to stay at the top of college basketball’s top 25 rankings when it was defeated in the farewell game at Freedom Hall in Louisville, five days before the Big East tourney.
With Onuaku injured for perhaps a while, plus the possibility of not earning a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday, Syracuse might have to manage with just Rautins, Joseph, and Johnson for the next few games.
Georgetown plays the winner of the Villanova-Marquette game on ESPN Friday evening at 7 P.M. Eastern.