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Otto Porter's career-high 33 points, stingy defense lead Hoyas to ninth straight win
You couldn't have written it any better. Georgetown went into the Carrier Dome for the last time in conference play, and found itself in a classic Big East slug-fest. But the Hoyas gave as good as they got, and eventually were the last team standing, emerging with a 57-46 win over the hated Orange.
Time and again, the decisive punches were delivered by Georgetown star Otto Porter, who scored a career-high 33 points, definitively closing his case as the conference's best player and staking a claim as the best nationwide. Another oustanding performance from Porter, combined with a disciplined, stingy Hoya defense, ended Syracuse's home winning streak (the nation's longest to that point), spoiled the Orange's retirement of Carmelo Anthony's jersey, and was another unforgettable chapter in a rivalry full of them. The win, Georgetown's ninth straight, put the Hoyas in sole possession of first place in the conference as the schedule enters the stretch run.
Things did not look so sanguine for Georgetown early on. The Hoyas could not crack the Syracuse zone, instead aimlessly passing the ball around the perimeter. Georgetown managed just two baskets--a nifty Mikael Hopkins pump-fake and lay-in and a Porter fadeaway off a busted play--over the first eight minutes. A couple of threes, by Brandon Triche and James Southerland, made the Syracuse lead eight, and it could have been worse, as the Orange missed three straight triples that would have widened the advantage even more.
But the Hoyas kept things close, primarily by starving the beast. It's no secret that Syracuse's offense depends on its defense to create turnovers that lead to easy transition points. Georgetown had many offensive flaws Saturday: the Hoyas made just 3 of their first 20 shots, and outside of Porter shot just 20 percent from the field. But they succeeded limiting turnovers, committing just 5 in the first half and 11 in the game overall. For nearly 10 minutes after Southerland's three, the Hoyas turned the ball over just once. Not coincidentally, Syracuse's offense went dry, managing just three points during that stretch. Forced into the half court, the Orange seemed mystified by a zone not unlike the one they themselves have employed for thirty-plus years.
And Georgetown's shots started to fall, at least by the rock-fight standards of this game. Or, more accurately, Porter's shots started to fall. The sophomore hit a three to narrow the deficit to just one, then turned a steal into a dunk that gave Georgetown its first lead. Another three and a short-corner transition jumper pushed that advantage to six. While a late Orange eight-point run (unsurprisingly fueled by three Hoya miscues) put the enemies up two, Georgetown had survived a half in which it had made under a quarter of its shots.
The second half began as the first half had, with both teams struggling offensively and the game remaining tight. But then Porter again went to work, hitting consecutive threes, the latter off a smart kick-out from Jabril Trawick. Three straight Georgetown baskets followed, the last a three-pointer by D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera that gave Georgetown an eight-point lead. The formula was much the same as the first-half surge, as the Hoyas committed just one turnover in the first twelve-plus minutes of the second half.
Georgetown never trailed again, though the game didn't lack for drama. A Michael Carter-Williams dunk closed the margin to four with under five minutes to play, bringing 35,000 Syracuse faithful to their feet. But the Hoyas didn't back down, instead sticking to the formula that had worked to that point, buckling down on defense and trusting their star on offense. First, the defense, as Moses Ayegba blocked a Rakeem Christmas shot into Porter's hands, one of four straight Orange possessions that came up empty, stalling any comeback Syracuse had in mind. On the other end, Otto hit his fifth and final triple and drew the foul, resulting in the rare four-point play that doubled the Hoya lead. Things remained within reach thereafter--only a semi-miraculous three-point play by Porter with barely a minute to play truly sealed Syracuse's fate--but the four-point play, as rare as the performance put in by the star who converted it, stands out as perhaps the day's most memorable moment.
Porter is rightly singled out for his singular performance, scoring more than his teammates combined, grabbing 8 rebounds, and swiping 5 steals. But he didn't win this game by himself. As has been the case so many times during this win streak, Georgetown needed to contributions of everyone on the floor to pull out the win Saturday. In an echo of the win over Notre Dame that began this run, Moses Ayegba was a beast under the hoop, hauling in 10 rebounds, blocking 2 shots, playing perhaps his best post defense, and generally showing the Orange that they didn't have a monopoly on the lane. One key to the victory was the Hoyas' ability to battle Syracuse to a draw on the boards, and Ayegba was the main Hoya bulwark down low. Trawick helped break down the Orange zone in the second half, knifing into the lane and finding open teammates for five assists. Nate Lubick and Markel Starks also each made a pair of essential second-half baskets, including one Lubick reverse lay-up that made my college roommate exclaim "Nathaniel!"
Great rivalries subsist on tradition and, to a lesser but still definite degree, schadenfreude. Saturday offered both. There was the familiar feeling that precedes any Syracuse game, a mixture of pulse-racing excitement and paralyzed fear that starts far too early in the day and precludes getting anything else done. Heading out to run some errands, I took the long way around the block, avoiding my neighbor who's a friendly, civilized human being most days but happens do hail from upstate New York and has a proclivity for wearing prison-jumpsuit orange. All Georgetown fans approach days like today with memories of similar games in years gone by, whether great seasons tainted by disappointing trips to Syracuse or glorious victories improbably wrested from the bowels of the Carrier Dome. Today, those memories were mixed with the slight pain of nostalgia, the knowledge that today's trip to Syracuse might be the last one, or at least the last one that means quite so much.
In addition to those lofty thoughts, we felt the unholy glee of seeing the Orange eat it. Just two days after Carter-Williams infamously said of Georgetown, "We've always been better than them, always will be better than them," he proved that he saves his best performances for 48 hours before tip-off, submitting a relatively quiet 2-of-6 shooting performance. Saturday was the retirement of the number of onetime Syracuse nine-month intern Carmelo Anthony, adding to a list of Syracuse big days that have been spoiled by Georgetown. Another such day came 33 years ago, when Georgetown put an end to Syracuse's tenure in Manley Field House and to the Orange's 57-game home winning streak. It was a fitting parallel, then, that the Hoyas won their last Big East game in the Carrier Dome, stopping another lengthy home streak.
Tomorrow, the work begins anew for Wednesday's trip to Connecticut. There are several games remaining, most notably a rematch two weeks from today with the Orange, who will be looking for revenge. First place in the standings, post-season seeding, and long-term bragging rights all could hang in the balance. But today reaffirms why we spend far too much time thinking, arguing, and writing about Georgetown basketball: individual magnificence rarely seen; collective toughness forged gradually but indelibly; gathering with friends and loved ones to cheer on good over evil; and, finally, the spirit and joy of a hard-fought win. As I'm writing this, word on the street is that a pep rally at McDonough awaits the return of our conquering heroes. Well deserved, and Hoya Saxa.