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Juiced: Georgetown Squeezes #14 Syracuse, 79-72, in Renewal of Rivalry

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Hoyas run up lead behind hot shooting, hang on late to beat hated Orange.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Georgetown beat Syracuse. Georgetown thumped Syracuse. The Hoyas pounded the Orange. Oooooh it feels good to type that again. Feel the hate!

For the first time in three seasons, Georgetown and Syracuse played Saturday, and the Hoyas emerged victorious, beating the temporarily 14th-ranked Orange, 79-72. Exploiting an interior advantage and open perimeter looks, Georgetown built a lead that surpassed 20 shortly after the half. Even so, Georgetown had to withstand a late Syracuse rally fueled by a full-court press, shaky Hoya ball-handling, and the Orange's late-awaking perimeter shooting. Ultimately, that wasn't enough, and Georgetown won the first post-conference match-up between these two rivals.

Don't let the game's waning minutes fool you: Georgetown controlled this game, leading for 37 of 40 minutes, the bulk by double digits. The Hoya front line, especially Bradley Hayes and Marcus Derrickson, feasted on an undersized Syracuse squad, scoring in the paint at will and pounding the offensive glass. Georgetown also enjoyed sharp outside shooting, as five Hoyas hit three-pointers.

Hayes scored a career-high 21 points to lead four Hoyas in double figures, converting a series of hooks and put-backs that at this point look automatic. After a back-and-forth opening few minutes, Hayes went to work inside. With a several-inch advantage over the Syracuse front line, Hayes set up and held solid post position in the middle of the Orange zone.  Thanks to excellent feeds from Derrickson, Isaac Copeland, and others patrolling the high post against the zone, Hayes turned that interior position into points. In the second half, Hayes banged for offensive rebounds, turning a follow-up to a missed put-back into an emphatic and-one. The senior big man still has his warts, particularly on defense, but his transformation into a reliable interior scorer has been remarkable.

On the other end of the floor, Syracuse couldn't buy a basket, as the Orange managed just two field goals over 12-plus minutes in the middle of the first half. Georgetown was sticking close to perimeter shooters and contested everything at the rim. The Hoyas also committed just two turnovers for the bulk of the first half, depriving the Orange's transition offense of its lifeblood. By the time the Syracuse found its rhythm, the Hoyas' lead had swelled to 14 points.

Derrickson soon picked up where Hayes left off, powering his way to a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds). The wide-bodied freshman forward has quickly cemented his spot in the Georgetown's starting lineup, and against Syracuse showed off equal parts brawn, savvy, and shooting touch.  In one particularly memorable sequence, Derrickson drew a charge on Syracuse big man DaJuan Coleman, muscled his way to an offensive rebound and put-back, drew another charge, this time against Orange guard Malachi Richardson, and then hit a three-pointer on the other end of the floor that put Georgetown up 20.

With nearly half the game left to be played, Syracuse didn't go away quietly. The Orange began to find open perimeter shooters by penetrating and kicking to the weak side, opening up three-pointers for Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney. And Syracuse extended its defense full-court, pressuring the Hoyas into 9 of their 14 turnovers after the half. By opening up the floor, the Orange whittled away at the Georgetown lead, which eventually shrank to just 6 points in the game's final minute.

But a few precious seconds weren't enough for Syracuse to complete its comeback. The Hoyas sank a few icing free-throws, putting the game definitively out of reach.

For all the excitement leading up to this game, this iteration of Georgetown-Syracuse lacked some of the seeming life-or-death stakes of conference showdowns. One big minus was the absence of proven cheater and nose-miner Jim Boeheim, who cowardly ducked an obvious road loss by beginning his nine-game exile just before this game. (Suuuuure, the NCAA made him do it.) The match-up also lost a bit of drama when Georgetown began the second half on an 11-2 run that pushed the Hoya advantage to 21.

Still, the passion was there. The packed, rowdy Verizon Center crowd cheered and jeered. The excellent Stonewalls unveiled a tifo listing Boeheim's crimes and misdemeanors. On the sideline were familiar faces--Big John Thompson, Otto Porter, and the stalwart Rich Chvotkin, calling his 1300th game, which appropriately enough, was a Hoya win over Syracuse.

The Hoyas lived up to the moment. In addition to Hayes and Derrickson, Isaac Copeland (14 points, 4 rebounds) and D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera (11 points, 5 assists) both scored in double figures. Copeland found the seams in the Orange zone: the sophomore forward hit a pair of triples, converted an offensive rebound, drained an elbow jumper, and threw down a thunderous dunk. Reggie Cameron continued to establish himself as a dependable rotation scorer and heady all-around player, chipping in 9 points and bringing defensive energy. Just a couple of years removed from looking clueless against aggressive zones, Georgetown can now put two skilled forwards on the floor at all times, effectively dissecting any zone defenses.

The win came despite some struggles. Smith-Rivera couldn't find many open looks, as Syracuse shaded an extra defender his way all day. Still, DSR did not force the issue, smartly moving the ball to the open man.  LJ Peak played just 12 minutes before fouling out, the third time he has played reduced minutes because of fouls. For all its depth in the front court, Georgetown remains thin at guard and can't really afford foul trouble to be an ongoing issue for Peak. The Hoyas looked particularly vulnerable in the back-court at the end of the game, when Syracuse's press forced several Georgetown turnovers.

The emphatic win over Syracuse was a strong opener to the back half of Georgetown's non-conference schedule. The Hoyas now play nine straight games in which they will be favored, almost all heavily so. That is no guarantee of success, as the season-opening loss to Radford proved. Georgetown must take every opponent as seriously as the Hoyas took their arch-rivals today. Hoya Saxa!