NEW YORK — Georgetown is once again the Big East’s ultimate bully.
The ninth-ranked Hoyas pummeled Pittsburgh last night at Madison Square Garden, earning the school’s first league tournament title since 1989 and capping their season sweep of the conference crowns with a 65-42 victory over the 12th-ranked Panthers.
The victory sends the Hoyas (26-6) into Selection Sunday on a magical roll that includes 15 wins in 16 games since Jan. 13 and has pundits everywhere salivating over Georgetown’s chances in the big bracket.
“That’s another thing I can scratch off my to-do list,” joked Georgetown coach John Thompson III after completing the three-year renaissance of the program his father built into a dynasty by leading the Hoyas to a Big East-best seventh tournament title. “Honestly, the opportunity to with the Big East regular season and the Big East tournament is extremely special. And to do it in just our third year is even sweeter. We’re going to enjoy it for a day or so. Then we’re going to turn that off and get ready for the NCAAs.”
Frankly, last night’s third game between the Hoyas and Panthers (27-7), who split in the regular season, never developed into much of a contest. Behind another superb performance from tournament MVP Jeff Green (21 points) and a stifling finale eruption by 7-foot-2 junior center Roy Hibbert (18 points, 12 rebounds), the Hoyas utterly overwhelmed Pitt in the paint from tip to horn.
“I’m just extremely proud to wear Georgetown on my uniform,” Hibbert said. “This is for the school, our fans and former players, and most of all for Coach Thompson.”
Hibbert ruled the first half, erasing Pittsburgh senior center Aaron Gray (0 points in the first half) on the defensive end while tormenting him at will on the other, scoring 14 points before intermission to stake Georgetown to a massive 32-17 lead.
Green, who elevated his game to yet another level in New York en route to winning the Dave Gavitt MVP award, then took over in the second half, finishing the rout in sterling fashion. The 6-foot-9 forward from Hyattsville was absolutely uncheckable in New York, averaging 21 points and 8.7 rebounds in the Hoyas’ three-game title run.
“Great players do elevate their game’s this time of year,” Thompson said. “Jeff Green is special in that he can do so many things at such a high level. He played extremely well this week. There’s no doubt about that.”
Just as he did in Friday’s career-high 30-point night against Notre Dame, Green showed off every aspect of his dynamic game against Pitt. He posted up and punished Pittsburgh power forward Levon Kendall. He soared around and over defenders with his repertoire of sweeping drives and floaters, demonstrating his mid-range game. And he stepped out to the foul line and beyond, drilling turnaround jumpers and one of his two shots from behind the arc to leave none in attendance doubting the NBA readiness of his game.
“From the first game this season, I’ve been thinking about coming out on top in the Big East this year and winning this thing,” Green said. “I wanted it very bad from the start.”
To some extent, last night’s result was a fairly predictable example of what happens when a jump-shooting team plays its third game in three days against one of the nation’s best frontcourts; fatigue tends to impair long-range jumpers more than dunks. But if Pitt’s abominable shooting performance (26.2 percent) and lowest-ever championship game point total were partially the product of tired legs, the Hoyas’ tireless halfcourt defense on similarly weary legs certainly played a major role, as well.
Just as it did in the first half of their opening-round victory over Villanova, Georgetown contested every Pittsburgh shot throughout most of last night’s action. And with Hibbert draped on Gray, the only alternative was a series of forced mid-range jumpers.
“Aaron just had a bad day. He’s one of the best players in the country,” Thompson said after Gray finished an abominable 1-for-13 from the field with three points. “They are a significantly better team than they looked like tonight, and everybody knows that. That said, Roy did a very good job on him, just knowing Aaron’s tendencies and being attentive to that.”
Now, Georgetown will simply sit back and await today’s tournament draw.