Those of you had Trevor Cooney and Baye Keita on your scouting report, please stand up. The third Georgetown-Syracuse match-up of the season plumbed the depths of both teams' rosters, as improbable role players on both sides contributed to a feisty Big East semifinal that resulted in a last-minute Orange victory. The loss was the product of hot Syracuse hands, especially from deep, and cold Georgetown ones, but stayed close thanks to the Hoyas' determination in the second half. Ultimately, Georgetown exited the floor at Madison Square Garden having outscored Syracuse by 30 points over 3 games, holding its head high given the seemingly long odds just three weeks ago.
Georgetown prevailed against Syracuse twice in part by dogged effort and efficient execution, on defense in both games and offensively last Saturday, and in other part by some horrific Syracuse shooting. in those two previous games, the Orange shot well below their average, particularly from deep, where they netted just 5 of 31 attempts. That number was bound to revert closer to Syracuse's 30 percent average at some point.
Friday proved to be that point. Orange sniper James Southerland got going early, hitting four three-pointers as Syracuse guards penetrated, only to find him wide open on the perimeter. Some of these openings were missed Georgetown defensive assignments, but just as many were the result of Southerland just making shots he missed as recently as last Saturday. Southerland's sharpshooting could have been expected by anyone who saw his performances over the past two days, but there also were other sources of offense, as reserve guard Cooney emerged from nowhere to hit a pair of triples.
Hot shooting from deep, and plenty of Orange second chances, led to a somewhat more productive Syracuse offense than in the first two meetings. Georgetown, by contrast, scarcely could find the hoop for much of the first half. While the Hoyas had leaned heavily on Otto Porter for the first match-up, and equally heavily on the Georgetown guards during last Saturday's blowout, Friday left them looking to the occasional post touch.
Those looks in the paint were surprisingly successful. Mikael Hopkins, lately relegated to being a mere role player, notched a career-high 15 points and 8 rebounds, his greatest number of boards in more than a month. The comrade was quick and forceful in the post, carving out space for himself down low and slashing decisively from the high post toward the basket. Nate Lubick was more limited offensively, converting half of his four shots for four points, but also hauled in 11 rebounds.
Still, Georgetown could only subsist for so long on paint touches to the exclusion of any perimeter production. Eventually, offensive ineptitude, the product of hesitation and indecision, caused the Hoyas to fall behind by double digits as the first half progressed. They missed their first five three-point attempts, avoiding a scoreless first half from behind the arc only thanks to a late Jabril Trawick triple, and finished the evening a frigid 4 of 18 from three. Georgetown also couldn't convert from the free-throw line, making just 11 of 20 foul shots.
Even with Trawick's three-pointer, Georgetown entered intermission down nine. Given the unimpressive first twenty minutes, Georgetown pulled off a truly remarkable stretch after the half, inching and fighting its way back into a contest in which every improbability went against it. Markel Starks, quiet through much of the first half, hit a trio of second-half three-pointers, the last of which pulled the Hoyas within five with under eight minutes to play.
Georgetown got closer and closer, finally tying the game with under two minutes to play on a pair of Trawick free throws. Syracuse post Keita responded with free throws of his own--two of a perfect seven-for-seven from the line, an anomaly for a 49 percent free-throw shooter--to put the Orange up two, but two more free throws, these from Porter, sent the game into overtime. Georgetown lingered throughout the extra session before a late Porter turnover foreclosed any Hoya hope.
Ultimately, the fates were aligned against the Hoyas Friday night. Keita was perfect from the free-throw stripe, taking and making more foul shots than he had attempted in any other game in his nearly three years at Syracuse, and notching just his fourth double-figure scoring game during that tenure. Cooney, a long-struggling alleged sniper, finally awoke, scoring more points Friday night than in his last seven games combined, and than in any other Big East game.
And Georgetown did little to help itself. Otto Porter played his worst game since at least his early exit from the DePaul game, struggling to find open looks and rushing those shots he did find, finishing with just 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting. His frustrating night was perhaps typified by a late three-pointer that went at least half-way into the hoop, rolled around, but then came back out. Often, those shots calmly fall through the net, but not Friday. And there was little replacement for Porter's somewhat off night. Of the Hoyas' other recent offensive options, only Starks provided any real spark.
This game was disappointing, but not exactly soul-crushing. Some numbers that swung in the Hoyas' favor over the first two games--Syracuse's putrid outside shooting, in particular--regressed Friday. The Hoyas' offense was not exactly clicking, but that happens every so often, particularly against the active Orange zone. But in the long view, the Hoyas lost a one-possession game in overtime, and easily controlled the final season of this rivalry, winning the two previous games by double digits. While these Hoyas appear to settle for no less than perfection, their impressive record against their archrival proves their merit even when falling short of that standard.
Now, Georgetown will have to wait, to consider the disappointment of Friday night's result, and to prepare what figures to be a trip to Philadelphia as a 2 seed. These Hoyas have proven their ability to survive, to endure, and to advance. They'll have to do all of those again within a few short days. Hoya Saxa.