SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP)—Syracuse may be down. Don’t count the Orange out just yet, though.
Paul Harris scored 22 points and freshman Donte Greene added 18 to lead Syracuse to a 77-70 victory over No. 8 Georgetown on Saturday, a huge win in terms of keeping the Orange’s postseason hopes alive with only five games remaining in the regular season.
Syracuse (17-9, 7-6 Big East), coming off a surprising loss at South Florida, built a 21-point lead in the first half and withstood two late rallies by the Hoyas (20-4, 10-3), who had only allowed one other team—top-ranked Memphis—to score more than 70.
It was the Orange’s first victory over a ranked team since they beat Georgetown in the regular-season home finale last March. It also served as a measure of revenge for Syracuse, which blew a seven-point lead in the final 5 minutes of regulation and lost by two points in overtime at Georgetown last month.
“This is definitely a quality, key win,” said Harris, who scored half his points from the free throw line. “But at the same time we have to keep believing in ourselves.”
Last season, desperate for a quality win, Syracuse dealt Georgetown its worst loss of 2006-07, beating the ninth-ranked Hoyas 72-58. Despite going 21-9 in the regular season and 10-6 in the Big East, Syracuse did not make the NCAA tournament field.
After losing Wednesday night on the road, the Orange again were in dire need of a quality win as this season winds down, and again Georgetown obliged.
Freshman Jonny Flynn had 17 points and nine assists for the Orange, while Arinze Onuaku added 13 points and a strong inside presence against 7-foot-2 center Roy Hibbert.
“I was ready to battle,” said Onuaku, who had just 18 total points in the previous three games. “I just wanted to go at him.”
The Hoyas let the game slip away from them quickly, committing 12 turnovers that led to 18 points in the first half as the Orange went on a stunning 28-4 run to open a 20-point lead. Georgetown shot 30 percent (6-for-20) in the half, scored only one basket during a stretch of nearly 11 minutes against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone, and finished with 22 points, a season low for a half.
“The way we started the game, we weren’t as tough on the road as we need to be playing against a team like Syracuse,” said Jonathan Wallace, who led the Hoyas with a career-high 26 points. “We’ve got to be strong with the basketball and more aggressive on offense and defense on the road. On the road, you pretty much have to make happen what you want to happen.”
Still, the Hoyas never quit despite the deafening roars emanating from the crowd of 31,327, the largest on-campus attendance in the nation this season.
Down 38-22 at halftime, they began the second half not playing their deliberate, patient game, and it paid off quickly. Hibbert started a 14-5 spurt with two baskets in the first 2 minutes and Jessie Sapp and Wallace both hit 3-pointers. A backdoor cut by Wallace had the Hoyas within 43-36 with 15:07 left.
Syracuse stormed back with a 10-0 run behind Greene, who hit a clutch 3, blocked a shot to set up a fast-break dunk by Harris, and then passed to Onuaku for another resounding slam to make it 53-36 with 11:38 to go.
“I told him (Flynn) to give me the ball,” said Greene, who missed 12 3-point attempts in the game. “I knew if Jonny passed it to me I was going to hit it.”
Undaunted, the Hoyas replied with a 14-2 spurt to get right back in it again. Sapp and Wallace each had a 3-pointer and Patrick Ewing Jr.’s tip-in, his only basket of the game, brought Georgetown within 55-50 with 7:26 left.
“It was good to see us regroup and bounce back, put together a decent half,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said after the Hoyas’ third road loss of the season. “We shouldn’t have been in that position. Road wins have been difficult. You can’t be negligent in any area in our league this year.”
Greene stopped the final rally with a 3 from the left corner and two free throws by Rick Jackson had the Orange back in front by 10.
Sapp’s 3 moved Georgetown within 62-55 with 4:41 remaining, but the Hoyas couldn’t close the gap any more and Harris and Flynn combined to go 11-of-12 from the free throw line over the final 69 seconds.
The surprise ending prompted hundreds from the massive crowd—the 64th of more than 30,000 since the Carrier Dome opened in 1980—to stream onto the court in celebration. The Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry has produced 15 of those big crowds.
“We’ve been in some difficult places during the course of this year,” Thompson said. “It didn’t necessarily affect us. They may have gained a little energy and had a little more pep in their step and a little zest because of the crowd, but I don’t think the crowd had anything to do with our turnovers.”