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NEW YORK -- For 40 minutes last night, the 6-foot-9 Georgetown forward turned the world's most famous arena into his personal playground. Living up to his laurels as the Big East player of the year with a performance that howled NBA lottery pick, Green strapped the No. 9 Hoyas on his back and put on a career-high, 30-point show against Notre Dame for the packed house at Madison Square Garden.
And when the lights were brightest and the pressure greatest, Green rose up one last time to smite the emerald band from South Bend, coaxing home a turnaround jumper with 13 seconds left to lift the Hoyas to an 84-82 victory over the Irish in the semifinals of the Big East tournament.
"Much like the rest of our guys, Jeff Green didn't want to lose, and the performance he put on today was special," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said after watching his junior standout finish as the game's leading scorer and rebounder with 12. "At the end of the day, great players make plays, and Jeff did that."
The win sends the Hoyas (25-6) into today's Big East championship game against No. 13 Pittsburgh. Georgetown, which is in the conference final for the first time since 1996, likely locked itself into a No. 2 seed for the NCAA tournament with last night's victory.
In many ways, Notre Dame (24-7) played the better game. While it's unlikely they expected to humiliate the Irish in the manner they did in the teams' only regular season meeting, the Hoyas spent the first half trying to match the intensity and energy of their opponent. It was Notre Dame, not Georgetown, who dictated the game's pace, pushing the ball up and down the floor and connecting on eight of its first 12 3-point attempts to claim a stunning 35-21 lead when senior swingman Russell Carter (21 points) buried consecutive 3-pointers midway through the first half.
Even in Georgetown's six losses, no team had knocked the Hoyas back on their heels the way the Irish did to start last night's game. Given the fast pace and Notre Dame's outstanding array of perimeter players, it quickly became evident that 7-foot-2 Georgetown center Roy Hibbert would be more liability than stalwart for the Hoyas. And the moment Thompson benched Hibbert in lieu of junior forward Patrick Ewing Jr. (15 points) and a smaller, quicker defensive lineup, the Hoyas stemmed the Irish tide and stormed back into the game.
Georgetown pulled within two points at halftime. And much to the delight of the Ewing-friendly New York crowd, Thompson departed from his season-long practice by starting Ewing and defensive-minded freshman guard Jeremiah Rivers over Hibbert and sophomore Jessie Sapp in the second half. Behind the frontcourt play of Ewing, freshman forward DaJuan Summers (18 points) and Green, the Hoyas eventually clawed ahead 76-69 with just less than five minutes left.
But the Irish and conference coach of the year Mike Brey refused to cave. Taking advantage of one of the Hoyas' only true weaknesses, Brey put the ball in the hands of freshman guard Tory Jackson (20 points, eight rebounds, five assists). And with the Hoyas afraid to switch to a zone that would leave them vulnerable to a perimeter attack, Jackson scalded Georgetown's slow-footed Jonathan Wallace on a series of slashing isolation plays, scoring seven points in a 9-0 Notre Dame run that put the Irish back on top 78-76. The Hoyas returned Hibbert to the middle of their defense to counteract Jackson and pulled back in front thanks to a series of score-and-stops that staked them to an 82-79 lead with a little more than one minute remaining.
But then near-disaster struck in the form of a foul call on Hibbert that resulted in a five-point swing. With Georgetown clinging to an 82-79 lead, Notre Dame guard Colin Falls (14 points) hoisted a shot from the right wing that clanged off the back of the iron, bounded high into the air and fell toward the positioning pair of Hibbert and Notre Dame's Luke Harangody. Hibbert had inside position and came away with the ball but was whistled for his fifth foul, sending Harangody to the line for the double-bonus.
The Irish big man missed his second free throw, but Notre Dame crashed the boards and came up with the rebound. Moments later, with the Georgetown defense still out of position, Jackson drove through the Hoyas and flipped in an acrobatic layup to tie the score at 82-82 with just less than 40 seconds left.
But Green simply refused to be sent home in the semifinals.
The forward put Harangody on his hip while the shot clock wound down before executing a move that electrified the Garden. With just less than 15 seconds left, Green spun toward the rim, drew contact and tossed in an 8-footer, giving the Hoyas a two-point lead and sending the partisan Georgetown crowd into a frenzy.
"It was a lucky shot," Green said. "I just put it up there and tried to get it on the rim and it went it."
Committing one of his few miscues all evening, Green then missed the free throw attempt and Carter sprinted toward the other end. Though he had time to take the ball all the way to the rim, Carter instead pulled up for a potential game-winning 3-pointer. His shot deflected off to the right with five seconds remaining, and Wallace chased down the miss for the Hoyas and cleverly hurled the ball high above the court, eating up the game's remaining seconds to seal the Georgetown victory.
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