Georgetown still has a postseason pulse.
In typically inconsistent fashion, the Hoyas rebounded from Saturday’s desultory performance at Pittsburgh by thrashing No. 14 Syracuse 75-60 last night at MCI Center.
With the easiest stretch of their conference schedule immediately ahead of them, the Hoyas (13-7, 4-4 Big East) start a string of four games against teams in the lower half of the league rankings with West Virginia at MCI Center on Saturday.
“That was huge for us,” said senior guard Kevin Braswell (16 points, five assists, six steals) after celebrating the victory amid a scrum of leaping students at halfcourt. “You need to win basically 20 games to get in the NCAA tournament, and we can still do that with eight games and the Big East tournament left. We really needed this one to start the stretch run off, and we got it in convincing fashion.”
Exposing Syracuse’s primary weakness, the Hoyas absolutely punished the Orangemen (17-5, 6-2) on the boards. With sophomore power forward Mike Sweetney (18 points, 13 rebounds) leading the charge, Georgetown used a staggering 47-22 rebounding edge to simply wear out the Orangemen, who are now minus-76 on the glass in their last four games. Things have gotten so bad under the boards for Jim Boehem’s crew that last night 6-foot-2 Georgetown guard Tony Bethel (14 points, nine rebounds) collected nearly twice as many caroms as the leading Syracuse rebounder.
“We are not a good rebounding team,” said Boeheim, stating the obvious. “And I think when they put their mind to it, Georgetown is the best rebounding team in the league. Once you show a weakness, they’re really going to go after it. That’s our weakness, and they shredded us because of it.”
The final margin, which could have been much higher had Georgetown coach Craig Esherick not cleared his bench with more than three minutes remaining and the Hoyas ahead 73-50, almost completely overshadows the fact that Syracuse senior gunner Preston Shumpert (season-low three points) played less than half the game with a severely scratched cornea. Shumpert, one of the league’s most devastating scorers, woke up Sunday morning with his right eye swollen shut and said he could not even see through the searing pain last night.
“He tried to go and played through it in the first half, but there was really no point because I don’t think a player of his caliber should have to play with one eye,” said Boeheim of his decision to pull his star one minute into the second half. “He hurt it against Pittsburgh in the Big East tournament last year. It’s bothered him to some extent ever since, but this was the first time it’s really flared up. That said, I think we might have needed more than a healthy Preston the way Georgetown beat us tonight.”
Offensively, the Hoyas did a far better job against the vaunted Syracuse zone than they did at Pittsburgh, when they shot just 19 percent in a panic-stricken second-half funk.
“We attacked it in so many ways,” said Braswell. “Instead of just taking jumpers like we did at Pitt, we attacked it tonight by driving into it and making the extra pass to the middle or along the baseline. That got us far better shots. And we also really got after them on the boards. When we rebound like that and take smart shots … Whoa, I don’t know that many teams who can beat us.”
The freshman duo of Bethel and Harvey Thomas was particularly impressive against Syracuse. The pair combined for 28 points, 13 rebounds and five assists while missing only six shots between them.
“I can’t say enough about our freshmen,” said Sweetney. “Those guys were absolutely sensational. Tony is one of the most controlled players I’ve ever seen, and Harvey was an energetic force along the baseline.”
Thomas, one of the most touted prep recruits in the country last season, picked the team’s biggest game of the season to date to explode for a career-high 14 points.
“I feel more comfortable with every game out there,” said Thomas. “This is just the beginning. You haven’t seen anything out of me or this team yet.”