USA TODAY Sports
Hoyas bludgeon Orange in final regular-season Big East match-up between bitter rivals.
Two weeks ago, after Georgetown took apart Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, I started my recap with, "You couldn't have written it any better." Saturday, the same was true of the rivals' rematch in D.C., as the Hoyas flawlessly executed their game plan, stifling the Orange defensively and picking apart the vaunted Syracuse zone en route to a 61-39 blowout.
On a day on which Georgetown honored its tradition, the current team cemented its own place in the record books, completing a season sweep of Syracuse, capping an improbable two-month run of 14 wins in 16 games, and claiming a regular-season conference title. While only the most delusional of us would have expected this after two embarrassing January losses, today the win, and the accolades, were fitting.
The build-up to this game was almost unbearable. A week-long celebration of the history of this rivalry and the brilliance of Georgetown's recent winning streak and its star threatened to overshadow the actual game. And, for those inclined to believe as much, it might have distracted the Hoyas' mid-week road-trip, a dud of a loss at Villanova. The anticipation crested Friday night, with news of students sleeping outside the arena for prime seats, a retiring mascot making his last appearance, and Hoya greats of seasons gone by (and, on the recruiting front, perhaps a future Hoya great or two) flocking to the arena, all to take in one last Georgetown-Syracuse Big East battle.
With all that hype, it was only natural that the opening minutes of the actual game were a bit lackluster. Georgetown struggled to find easy shots off the bat, converting just one of its first five possessions, while the Hoyas also couldn't close out the defensive boards, allowing a number of Orange second chances.
But Syracuse couldn't make much of its chances, first, second, or otherwise. The Orange found few opportunities in transition. Once reduced the half-court, the visitors simply could not stretch the Georgetown defense, making just 1 of 11 three-point attempts. After a shaky start, the Hoyas clamped down on the defensive boards, allowing just two second chances over the game's final 29 minutes. Physical play, often intensely so, made life hard for the Orange on the boards and in the lane. And, as in the first match-up, Syracuse's loose ball-handling resulted in several turnovers (14, in this game) that led to transition opportunities for Georgetown.
On offense, the first half was a near mirror image of its predecessor at Syracuse. While Otto Porter single-handedly lead the Hoya attack in the Carrier Dome, netting 16 of the team's 20 first-half points, he initially took a back seat in this game, converting just two of the team's 25 points before intermission.
Instead, Georgetown used great ball movement to find open perimeter shooters. Georgetown's eight first-half baskets included six assists, which doesn't count a number of well-placed picks (principally by Nate Lubick and Porter) that were as essential to those baskets as was the crisp passing. That orchestrated attack against the Orange zone freed up Hoya guards D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks, who combined to score 19 first-half points on the strength of five three-pointers.
Even so, the Hoya advantage stood at just two just before the half. That's when things really began to open up, as Georgetown scored on five straight possessions bridging intermission and the lead ballooned to 14. As has been the case with the Hoyas all season long, everyone chipped in. Lubick scrambled to set a screen to open up a DSR three, Jabril Trawick grabbed a steal that lead to Porter's first points just before the break and, after play resumed, Starks hit an open three then hit Lubick with a one-handed bullet for a transition lay-in.
After a brief Orange flurry that narrowed the deficit, a 12-2 Hoya spurt put the game out of reach. That run, and much of the rest of the second half, was highlighted by Porter's dissection of the Syracuse zone. Operating from the free-throw line, Porter hit at least three jumpers, but also found a number of open teammates in the post and on the wing for easy points. His teammates got into the act as well, as quick and insightful perimeter passing opened up 3 second-half three-pointers for Starks, who canned five triples on the day en route to a game-high 19 points.
On defense, Georgetown seemed to reach a state of blood-lust in the second half, clawing for every defensive rebound and closing out on every perimeter shooter, determined to deny the Orange any hope of a comeback. The best defenses succeed only with dogged collective effort, and Saturday was no exception. Starks and DSR picked the Orange's pockets on the perimeter (in that department, Michael Carter Williams gives as good as he gets, I guess), while Porter and Trawick provided plenty of interior grit. On the whole, Georgetown actually improved on its stalwart performance at the Carrier Dome, holding Syracuse to just 33 percent shooting from the field and under one point per minute. Lest anyone get too wrapped up in the ceremony and near morality play of the day, the Hoyas reminded everyone that a true butt-whupping was taking place on the court.
The lead eventually swelled beyond twenty, allowing for plenty of good feeling to permeate the Verizon Center. Left without any on-court drama, the broadcasting team took to waxing nostalgic about the demise of a rivalry. In the stands, cheering, singing, and flag-waving rose to ever-higher levels, and, on the sideline, the program's architect, John Thompson, Jr., could be seen bearing a Stonewalls-approved scarf. JTIII, milking the satisfaction of his first Big East regular-season title in five years, embraced each of the core Hoyas as they came off the court.
In the end, the Georgetown students stormed the court. The gesture, so over-used in college basketball, seemed appropriate here. It was a not an expression of the miraculousness of the win, as Georgetown already had beaten Syracuse by double digits this year. Rather, the flood of fans to the floor was an overflowing of joy. That joy had many causes, including the release of anticipation that had been building since this year's schedule was announced, a decisive victory over an archrival in perhaps the teams' last meaningful game, a regular-season championship secured on the season's last day, and, in some ways, just having been there.
There also was the slight pain of knowing this might be the last time. Perhaps with this in mind, Jim Boeheim stopped to greet Pops on his way off the court, while the Hoyas clutched the trophy for their title, a bookend to match Georgetown's championship in the Big East's first year. These two teams might meet again in New York next week, or even in the NCAA Tournament, but the odds are against it. And Otto Porter might play at the Verizon Center in a Georgetown uniform again, though the chances of that also seem slim.
But we came into today already knowing of these endings. That being so, Saturday could not have gone better. This game and this season stand as testaments to three parts of the Thompson-led Georgetown tradition: tenacious, unyielding defense, generally associated with Pops but present throughout the past two seasons; creative, fluid offense, the reputation of JTIII that has been resurrected as this year has progressed; and selfless unity, the essential ingredients of those two other strengths.
There's an afternoon into an evening to savor this victory, along with plenty of Double Stuf Oreos and, for those of you in D.C., who knows what else. Tomorrow, the work begins anew, as the Big East Tournament to end them all awaits, and the Big Dance beyond that. It's March, the time of year we wait for, wondering, worrying, yearning. How far Georgetown can go this year, and whether its recent promise will be fulfilled in the postseason, remains to be seen. But what we saw today won't soon be forgotten. Hoya Saxa.