NEW YORK — Anchored by a clutch night from Baye Keita inside and some tenacious defense on Big East Player of the Year Otto Porter Jr., Syracuse survived a pair of Georgetown comebacks to advance to the Big East championship game with a 58-55 win.
A capacity Madison Square Garden crowd was at full roar for the first semifinal of the night, the final Big East matchup between the two old rivals before the Orange depart for the ACC next season. With tickets going for over three hundred dollars outside the arena, patrons got their money’s worth with an overtime classic that came down to the buzzer twice. In the end, Jim Boeheim is going to get a shot at his sixth tournament title.
“This is a monumental tournament for us to get our confidence back,” said Boeheim in his postgame press conference. “We fully got that back. So that’s why this tournament is so valuable for us this year. We really need to have this kind of a tournament.”
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Georgetown rallied from a 12-point second half deficit to force overtime, culminating with a pair of Porter free throws with seven seconds remaining. Brandon Triche’s jumper at the other end missed, plunging the game into an extra session and the building into hysterics.
C.J. Fair atoned for a rough night shooting with a ridiculous dunk over Porter with two minutes remaining in overtime, staking the Orange to a 57-53 lead. The Hoyas stayed in the game thanks to their rivals missing four of five free throws down the stretch, but Jabril Trawick’s half court heave to tie the game went wide right as time expired, rewarding the Orange faithful that had packed the arena. It was the first win in three tries for Syracuse against Georgetown the season after the Hoyas swept both regular season meetings.
Fair (3-of-16 from the field and responsible for the foul that put Porter on the line at the end of regulation) and Carter-Williams (1-of-7 from the field with six turnovers) can thank their big man for picking up the slack, as Keita carried the Orange when the game got tight. The junior from Senegal collected six offensive boards and was perfect from the line on seven attempts, scoring the last four points of regulation for his squad. James Southerland and reserve Trevor Cooney were big from the arc, helping 'Cuse establish its early lead with a half-dozen 3-pointers between them.
Southerland’s scorching tournament continues, as he has now hit sixteen threes over the course of three games. After the game, John Thompson III likened the senior to former Syracuse star Gerry McNamara, one of the most prolific shooters in Big East Tournament history.
Unable to get inside against the Syracuse zone, the Georgetown comeback was spearheaded from the perimeter, as Porter, Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera all hit big jumpers late to narrow the gap. The Hoyas couldn’t find the touch from deep all night, finishing 4-of-18 from three, bothered by the quick closeouts and long arms of the swarming Orange defenders. Porter ended up 4-of-13 from the field, never really finding his offensive groove.
It was a fitting, classic finale to the rivalry that helped establish the Big East. The two teams met in the Big East championship game five times between 1980 and 1992, as squads littered with conference legends like Patrick Ewing, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, Alonzo Mourning and Sherman Douglas competed for conference and national titles. After the game ended, one Syracuse fan wearing a Boeheim mask held up a sign reading “The Rivalry is Officially Closed.” The two programs will surely meet again, but the Orange faithful will have bragging rights for a long time after this victory.
“I mean, it’s Syracuse,” said Porter after the game. “Anybody from Georgetown will tell you that they don’t like them. It’s the best rivalry in college basketball. They’re going to let you know right away.”
When asked about the end of the rivalry, Boeheim didn’t hide his dissatisfaction with the dissolution of the conference he’s been a member of for over three decades.
“It’s got nothing to do with basketball, you know that. You’re way smarter than that. This is just to do with football. You know that. It’s just where everything is going. Just wait a few more years, everything will be gone.”
Syracuse will play in the Big East title game tomorrow night at 8:30pm. Georgetown will be back in action next week in the NCAA Tournament.
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