- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

NEW YORK What's a Hoya? Apparently, it's an underachieving NIT team.

Georgetown's NCAA tournament hopes perished in fittingly familiar fashion yesterday as the Hoyas blew a late 10-point lead en route to an 84-76 overtime loss to No.20 Miami in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. The Hoyas (19-11) will spend the next two days mulling "what-ifs" while they wait for the seemingly inevitable no-call from the NCAA tournament selection committee.

"Certainly, we played well enough to win the game," said Georgetown coach Craig Esherick after watching his team stagger down the stretch once again and fall to 0-4 in overtime games. "I've had the same feeling I have today a whole lot this season, a little bit too much. I told the guys that are coming back next year, I said, 'You need to remember this feeling.' This is a helpless feeling. … We have now put our destiny in somebody else's hands."

Anybody who has listened to NCAA tournament selection committee chairman Lee Fowler stumble through an interview knows you wouldn't want to put your dinner plans in Fowler's hands much less your postseason fate. And after yet another error-littered collapse at the finish, there's little doubt that Fowler and Co. have already made the decision to strike the hapless Hoyas from their invitation list.

For Georgetown, there wasn't just one goat against the Hurricanes (24-6) it was more like a herd.

After more than 30 minutes of sterling hoops, the Hoyas had a 63-53 lead with 7:44 remaining when things started to unravel. First Georgetown began to routinely lose touch with Miami sophomore swingman Darius Rice, a 6-foot-10 jump shooter who is one of the league's most dangerous, if streaky, scorers. Rice (18 points) erupted with his team in trouble, shedding every defender Georgetown ran at him and scored 11 straight points on three 3-pointers and a runner to tie the game 68-68 with 2:27 remaining.

"Darius Rice just took over," said Georgetown senior captain Kevin Braswell, who was stewing in frustration and disappointment after the game. "This was our fourth overtime game this season, and our fourth time to lose. That's unbelievable."

Perhaps those defensive lapses were forgivable, because Rice is one of the most difficult players in the nation to guard. But two mammoth errors with the score tied in the last minute of regulation probably cost the Hoyas the game. The first was by freshman forward Harvey Thomas with 51 seconds left and the score tied 70-70. Just moments after Thomas made the defensive play of his career by stuffing Rice, he allowed cagey Miami senior guard John Salmons (11 rebounds, 10 assists) to bait him into a miscue.

Thomas was trying to inbound the ball in the backcourt to Braswell, who was being fronted by the 6-7 Salmons. The Miami senior feigned defensive indifference and then timed Thomas' lob pass perfectly, leaping to snatch the ball over Braswell. In the following seconds, Braswell fouled Salmons, who stroked home two free throws to put the Hurricanes up 72-70 with 36.7 seconds remaining.

Braswell and sophomore power forward Mike Sweetney (14 points, eight rebounds) compensated for the error over the next 20 seconds, the former knotting the score with an acrobatic floater and the latter snuffing a Salmons shot to give the ball back to the Hoyas with 16.5 seconds remaining.

Enter junior Courtland Freeman, a reserve forward for the Hoyas who has never lived up to his billing as a blue-chip prospect. The Hoyas broke Miami's press by finding Freeman at halfcourt, but with 10 seconds still left on the clock, Freeman turned upcourt and fired a risky 50-foot pass toward freshman Tony Bethel in the opposite baseline corner. Freeman's ill-advised pass sailed high over Bethel, who could not save the ball from careening out of bounds.

"We didn't have that play called, I can tell you that," said Esherick afterward. "But I don't want to put the blame on anybody on our team for any one particular play. There were all sorts of plays. We were up by 10. There were all sorts of plays that permitted Miami to get back in the game."

Miami failed to get a good look at the basket on its final possession, but the Hurricanes absolutely dominated the overtime. Braswell earned his share of culpability, too, by chucking an early airball and then committing a turnover to kill two Georgetown possessions.

"Those are the two plays I'm going to think about for a long time," said Braswell (12 points, five assists), who made just five of his 16 shots.

Meanwhile, Miami shooting guard Marcus Barnes (27 points) and his mates were making good on their offensive trips. Barnes, who tortured the Hoyas from behind the arc all day (making six of 10 from 3-point range), flipped home a difficult fallaway jumper and then converted one of two free tosses to put the Hurricanes ahead 77-74 with 2:45 remaining.

After a basket by Georgetown center Wesley Wilson (16 points, 10 rebounds) and a pair of free throws by Miami's James Jones left the Hurricanes leading 79-76, Wilson then earned his horns and sealed Georgetown's fate.

Wilson, who otherwise played a solid game, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 48.6 seconds left and his team trailing by three. Miami came down with the rebound, and Georgetown was forced to employ the desperate hack-and-heave strategy over the game's closing seconds. Miami cemented the victory by making its free throws while Georgetown saw its NCAA tournament hopes end with a few, final long-range clanks.


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