NEW YORK — The space wasn't there and the shots didn't fall. Syracuse simply smothered Georgetown sophomore Otto Porter Jr. in the Big East Tournament semifinal.
Porter is the Big East Player of the Year, averaging 16 points and 7 rebounds for the team that was part of a three-way tie as the conference's regular season champions, and yet, with so many things for Porter to remember this year, he's now played through a night he can't wait to forget.
The Hoyas star never found a rhythm against the Orange in a 58-55 overtime loss made all the more frustrating by the fact that Georgetown had twice handled Syracuse this season with relative ease. He was just 4-of-13 from the floor, but it wasn't how many shots he missed, it was how and when he missed them.
With the Hoyas trailing 47-42 in the second half, Porter missed a three at the 6:14 mark. Nearly a minute later, Georgetown had narrowed the gap to 47-43 when Porter made an ill-advised pass that was easily intercepted by Syracuse. He was sharper on the other end of the floor, grabbing a couple key defensive rebounds and pressuring on defense, but the hits kept coming when he had the ball.
When Georgetown forced overtime, it was a chance for Porter to get a fresh start, but it just never happened. Down 53-51 with 3:54 left in overtime, he missed the first free throw of a 1-and-1, which Syracuse promptly rebounded.
That was followed by the lowest point of the night – C.J. Fair's vicious posterization of Porter to give Syracuse a 57-53 lead – which ignited the crowd and effectively cemented the momentum in the Orange's favor. Porter then missed a layup with just under a minute left in the extra frame, and found himself pinned on what could have been the game-tying possession with five seconds left, helplessly throwing the ball into defender Nolan Hart's hands.
Pinning the loss solely on Porter is obviously a stretch, but in Georgetown's previous two wins over Syracuse this season, he averaged 21.5 points and 8 rebounds. Two big games, two big performances from the conference's biggest player. But Friday night was different – the teams were virtually identical in every statistical category. The only thing missing was a little bit of Porter's brilliance.
Perhaps worst of all, the loss all but assures the Hoyas won't wrangle a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and instead are staring at a 2 or a 3 seed if they're really unlucky. And it all came at the hands of their hated rival in their final Big East game in the sport's most famous venue, with their best player unable to save the day.
Not that his coach expected him to.
John Thompson III said he anticipated Syracuse's focus on Porter, and that his team wasn't able to do enough to take advantage of the extra space along the baseline that the pressure created. Meanwhile, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim emphasized that there was a reason his team focused so intently on stopping the dynamic forward.
"Otto Porter…I hate to say this in some ways, but I was talking today before the game, I think he's the best all around player I've seen in this league," Boeheim said. "There's been so many great players, but centers, power forwards, point guards, two guards – I don't think I've seen a better small forward in this league. He's just a complete player."
It was the highest praise from the conference's longest-tenured coach.
The question is whether that makes the loss sting more or less.