EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Jeff Green simply refused to endure another Sour 16.
Georgetown’s junior superstar banked home a spinning one-hander with less than five seconds remaining to lift the Hoyas to a 66-65 victory over Vanderbilt and send Georgetown to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1996.
The Hoyas (29-6), who have won 18 of their last 19 games, will face North Carolina tomorrow for the chance to go to their first Final Four since 1985.
“When you’re young you’re always in the backyard pretending that you’re making shots and listening to the crowd go wild,” said Green, whose shot touched off some celebratory chaos among the partisan Georgetown crowd last night at Continental Airlines Arena. “This year I’ve been making that happen for real, and it’s been really nice.”
Though there still is some question whether the 6-foot-8 Green traveled on the play, there’s no denying the temerity, will and athleticism he exhibited in delivering one of the most memorable daggers in the program’s storied history.
“For any other guy, the degree of difficulty on that shot is impossible,” said Georgetown freshman forward DaJuan Summers, who hugged Green for nearly 20 seconds at halfcourt after the Big East player of the year elevated above a Vanderbilt double-team of 6-foot-9 Ross Neltner and 6-6 Shan Foster and flipped in the 8-footer. “I wouldn’t want anybody else taking that shot, much less in that situation. But for Jeff, he can take that shot any time. I’m kind of speechless. I was on the verge of tears out there because this is my first time in the NCAA tournament, and I just feel so blessed to have been able to experience that.”
Summers had reason to be the happiest man in the building when Green’s shot went down and a 40-foot heave by Vanderbilt’s Alex Gordon at the horn fell woefully and harmlessly short. Despite an otherwise superb game, Summers (15 points, seven rebounds) would have gone home a goat if not for Green, who had 15 points. Moments before Green’s magic, Summers committed a potentially disastrous foul on the offensive end as the Hoyas were trying to deliver a killshot to pesky Vanderbilt (22-12).
Summers was whistled for pushing Vanderbilt’s Dan Cage in the back while attempting to corral an offensive rebound on a miss by Patrick Ewing Jr. with 17.9 seconds remaining and the Hoyas leading 64-63. Ewing, who was in the game in place of fouled out center Roy Hibbert (12 points, 10 rebounds), worked to get himself an excellent look at the basket with a little less than 20 seconds remaining, up-faking and sliding to the baseline corner of the arc for a 3-pointer that would have effectively ended the game.
But when Ewing’s shot clanked high off the iron, Summers clearly shoved Cage in the back to get to the rebound. The Vanderbilt senior guard, who finished with 17 points, walked to the line and drilled both tosses to put the Commodores up by a point and set up the final sequence.
“I was scared because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I cost us the game,” Summers said. “We made plenty of other mistakes, but mine was the last, and I couldn’t stand for it to end like that.”
Summers’ mistake was the last in a series of miscues by the Hoyas on the night. After playing a sloppy first half on the defensive end and uncharacteristically rushing shots on the opposite end, the Hoyas went to the locker room down 32-24 and looking ripe for an upset.
But after ignoring their 7-2 center for most of the first half, the Hoyas went right to Hibbert to start the second half and immediately surged to a 43-40 lead courtesy of a half-opening 17-6 spurt. After a somewhat dispassionate first-half defensive effort, the Hoyas smothered Vanderbilt’s array of snipers, crushed the Commodores on the boards (40-26) and appeared ready to blow the game open before Hibbert picked up his final three fouls in quick succession. The last of those fouls came on a 3-point attempt by Derrick Byars and helped Vanderbilt claw out to a 60-57 lead with 3:58 remaining.
Green then committed back-to-back errors of his own, bailing out the sluggish Vanderbilt offense with fouls on consecutive possessions that allowed the Commodores to score stress-free points from the line while Georgetown was fighting to match those scores at the opposite end.