- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. While most of the nation is watching one of the more riveting NCAA tournaments in recent memory, the Georgetown Hoyas are quietly keeping their season alive in the NIT.

Georgetown guards Tony Bethel and Gerald Riley combined to score 28 second-half points as the Hoyas defeated North Carolina 79-74 last night in the quarterfinals before a raucous 15,043 at Smith Center.

The Hoyas (18-14) will play the winner of tonight's Minnesota-Temple game on Tuesday at New York's Madison Square Garden in the semifinals. North Carolina finished its season 19-16.

Two weeks ago, Georgetown's bid for an NCAA tournament berth ended in a 74-69 loss to Syracuse in the Big East tournament on the same floor where the Hoyas will try to win the NIT.

Bethel and Riley combined for three points in the first half but came to life when the game meant the most, especially Riley. The 6-foot-6 junior scored 19 second-half points, including three of four from behind the 3-point arc, to give the Hoyas breathing room. Riley finished with 22 points.

With North Carolina leading 50-49 and 13:40 left, Riley nailed a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Hoyas a 52-50 lead. Five minutes later, Riley made another 3-pointer from the right wing to stretch Georgetown's lead to 60-52 with 8:49 left.

"They found him he's their best outside shooter," North Carolina coach Matt Doherty said. "He's 6-foot-6 with long arms. It's tough to get to his shot."

The most impressive aspect of this victory is that it was Georgetown's third straight road win. With the World Figure Skating Championships at MCI Center this week, there was no way Georgetown could play host to an NIT game. The Hoyas have won at Tennessee (70-60), Providence (67-58) and North Carolina. This is the deepest the Hoyas have gone in the NIT since 1993, when they lost to Minnesota 62-61 in the championship.

Both teams attacked each other relentlessly in the first half. Freshman point guard Raymond Felton was superb running the Tar Heels' offense with six assists, and forward Brandon Bowman scored 10 points.

Bowman, a 6-foot-8 freshman from Santa Monica, Calif., nicely complemented Mike Sweetney's 14 first-half points. Bowman, who came in averaging 7.1 points, simply ran the floor and good things happened. His teammates found him on breakaway dunks, and he did his own part by slashing off the right wing. Bowman finished with 12 points.

The Hoyas didn't start well, and North Carolina took a 20-12 lead on Jackie Manuel's 3-pointer from the right wing with 12:36 left in the first half.

At that point, Georgetown coach Craig Esherick got out of his man-to-man defense and deployed a 2-3 zone that gave the Tar Heels fits the remainder of the half. The Hoyas double-teamed passes to the wings and cut off North Carolina's points of attack.

Georgetown took a 34-32 lead into halftime as Esh erick's defensive switch forced the Tar Heels to commit nine first-half turnovers. North Carolina finished with 18 turnovers.

"Early on, I was worried that we were going to get blown out," Esherick said. "The crowd was involved in the game, and they hit some tough shots. Really out of desperation, I decided, 'Let's start trapping 'em and see if we can disrupt some of their shooting.' "

Esherick showed a little man defense in the second half but quickly went back into his zone and saw it pay off. Over a 10-minute span until 5:37 was left, the Tar Heels made one basket from the floor a layup by forward Jawad Williams.

"At the beginning of the game, they started off by hitting a lot of shots which hurt us," said Sweetney, who finished with 22 points. "Everyone stepped up together. We were all on the same page and forced a lot of turnovers."

Despite their 10-minute drought, the young Tar Heels tied it at 70 with 2:03 left on a hanging layup by freshman forward Rashad McCants, who finished with a game-high 26 points on 10 of 13 shooting.

With 58.2 seconds left, Hoyas backup point guard Drew Hall made perhaps the biggest shot of his career when he hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to give the Hoyas a 73-70 lead.

On the play, Sweetney was double-teamed in the lane, and he kicked the ball out to the wide-open Hall on the wing. Hall then followed up his 3-pointer with two free throws with 9.3 seconds left for a 77-72 lead. But he game wasn't in the bag for Georgetown until Bethel made two free throws with 4.4 seconds left.

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