- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

NEW YORK In the lowest-scoring game in Big East tournament history, Georgetown avoided a near disaster last night by making plays down the stretch against an undermanned underdog.

Guard Gerald Riley's 15-foot jumper from the left wing with 32.4 seconds left provided a four-point lead as Georgetown held off stubborn Villanova 46-41 in the first round before 19,528 at Madison Square Garden.

"Fortunately, I was in a good position at the end of the game, and my teammates found me on the wing," said Riley, who finished with 10 points on four of 13 shooting. "I had the shot, I took the shot and it went in. So it was a big shot down the stretch."

In addition to Riley's key basket, Georgetown forward Mike Sweetney came up big when he blocked three Villanova shots and scored six points in the final 6:02.

Though it wasn't pretty, Georgetown was able to overcome a seven-man Villanova team to advance. The Hoyas (15-13) will face Syracuse (23-4), the West Division's top seed, in tonight's quarterfinals.

"I thought in the second half we did a great on our trapping defenses, and we did a great job of causing turnovers," Georgetown coach Craig Esherick said. "Anytime you get a lead on a team like this that is trying to shorten the game, it causes them an awful lot of problems."

Villanova (15-15) was short of talent because of unauthorized use of a university telephone access code by players. The school suspended 12 of them, leaving five scholarship players and two seldom-used walk-ons to battle the Hoyas.

With Georgetown trailing 23-20 at halftime, Esherick opened the second half with a 1-3-1 zone trap, and the Wildcats obligingly turned over the ball on two consecutive possessions. With their defense creating havoc, the Hoyas started the half with an 11-2 run to lead 31-25 with 11:01 left. Georgetown never trailed again.

"Our start of the second half hurt us as much as anything," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We turned the ball over the first two possessions and didn't get a shot. We wanted to run the clock down, but they are a good defensive team. They are athletic and long. I thought we could have made extra passes and taken easier shots."

Georgetown's point guard play had no solutions for Villanova's 2-3 zone in the first half. The Hoyas scored a season-low 20 points because their guards could not penetrate into the lane.

"I was trying to get the ball to Mike, but I also knew that if we stood around and tried to get the ball to Mike, our shooters would be out of rhythm," Esherick said.

"They got our shooters out of rhythm. A couple of times I felt, particularly in the first half, we passed up good shots to try and get the ball to Mike. [The Hoyas] were trying to do what I asked them to do. It was difficult to get the ball inside because of how [the Wildcats] were playing. We weren't just going to throw the ball to Mike if he had two people on him, and we exhausted the shot clock because of it."

Sweetney's own teammates were Villanova's best defense. The first-team All-Big East forward scored four points in the first half while taking just five shots. Sweetney came in averaging 22.7 points, the league's third-best scoring average. This time he finished with 12 points.

The Hoyas were better from behind the 3-point arc in the second half (four of 11 for 36.4 percent) than they were from two-point range (eight of 24 for 33.3 percent). For the game, the Hoyas shot 30.8 percent, making 16 of 52. Actually, their 3-point shooting is what saved them. The Hoyas made six of 19 3-pointers (31.6 percent).

Defensively, the Hoyas weren't much better. They allowed Villanova to walk the ball up the court, milk the shot clock, and control the tempo of the game. Wildcats junior guard Derrick Snowden led Villanova with 12 points on five of eight shooting, including two of three 3-pointers.

The Wildcats also missed free throws in the second half and that prevented them from upsetting the Hoyas. In the first half, Villanova made five of six free throws. In the second half, Villanova made five of nine free throws and lost by five.

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