- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

VILLANOVA, Pa. — A few blue and gray ghosts showed up yesterday to spoil Villanova’s party at the Pavilion.

On a day when Villanova celebrated the 20th anniversary of its national championship victory over Georgetown by honoring former coach Rollie Massimino and his team, the Hoyas snatched the spotlight and earned an eerie measure of revenge.

With a last-second baseball inbounds pass from Georgetown junior Ashanti Cook to senior Darrel Owens and the latter’s resulting free throws, the Hoyas edged the Wildcats 66-64 — the same score as the 1985 title game.

“That’s very freaky,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “We may have had a few ghosts of Billy Martin and Horace Broadnax and Michael Jackson [flying around] as that ball was sailing down the court and Darrel was taking off after it. We might have had a few of those guys helping it get over the top and land in Darrel’s hands.”

Maybe, although the pass was so perfectly arched it would have made Peyton Manning blush. But considerable assistance was needed on the foul call; Owens missed a finger roll with a tenth of a second left and the game tied at 64-64 but drew a whistle on Villanova trailer Curtis Sumpter.

The call, questionable more for its timing than its legitimacy, drew a chorus of boos from the crowd of 6,500. Sumpter and Villanova point guard Mike Nardi collapsed in incredulity. Wildcats coach Jay Wright erupted, screaming Cook had never stepped behind the Villanova baseline before delivering his perfect toss.

Approximately a minute later, after much caterwauling and histrionics, Owens stepped to the line and drilled both shots, the first rattling just enough to sting the locals even deeper.

“It was just kind of a heads-up play,” Owens said of the fullcourt pitch and catch that sublimated Will Sheridan’s game-tying dunk with two seconds left and vaulted the Hoyas (11-4, 3-1 Big East) into an early tie for third place in the conference. “Ashanti just made a great pass, and we came away with a win.”

Said Thompson: “I wish I could tell you that we work on that play five minutes during every practice. … In the huddle [before Sheridan’s basket], I did tell the guys, ‘If they score, let’s just throw it long and see what happens.’”

What happened was Georgetown swiped a second consecutive league game in which it faced a double-digit deficit and trailed throughout.

What happened was the Hoyas moved within one victory of last season’s Big East win total with the most daunting quarter of their league schedule behind them heading into Tuesday’s game at No.7 Syracuse.

What happened was the scrappy Hoyas simply found another way to win, this time against a team that had immeasurably more speed, size, strength and experience on the perimeter and the surprise services of Sumpter (14 points, seven rebounds), an explosive junior forward who was expected to miss the game with a sprained knee.

“This team is growing into a very resilient group,” said Thompson, who saw it rally from 13 down in the second half Tuesday to beat Rutgers 62-55 and perform a road encore by overcoming a 13-point deficit over the final 24 minutes against the Wildcats (9-3, 2-2).

A handful of factors enabled yesterday’s comeback.

First, Thompson went small in the second half, replacing the first-half tandem of ineffective center Roy Hibbert and 6-foot-8 backup Amadou Kilkenny-Diaw with junior jitterbug Ray Reed (nine points, two assists, two steals).

The switch not only helped the Hoyas against a stingy Villanova press, but Reed harassed Villanova guards Allan Ray (17 points), Nardi (12 points) and Randy Foye (nine points) on the defensive end while contributing his first Big East points of the season on some nice penetration moves in the offensive sets.

Thompson’s decision to shift to a smaller lineup didn’t cost the Hoyas on the glass. Largely because of the continued excellence of freshman forward Jeff Green (16 points, 12 rebounds), who recorded his team-leading fifth double-double, Georgetown pounded the Wildcats on the boards 39-27.

Perhaps equally important in Georgetown’s comeback effort was a staggering advantage in shot selection. While Villanova forgot about Sumpter inside and settled for quick jumpers and no-pass, dribble-drive assaults from Ray, Nardi and Foye (a combined 11-for-32 from the field), the Hoyas earned an array of layups, dunks and open jumpers out of Thompson’s motion offense, shooting 50 percent from the field in the second half and earning repeated trips to the line.

The Hoyas clawed ahead for the first time at 57-56 on Reed’s two free throws with 6:17 remaining and never trailed again, answering each Villanova charge with a matching blow.

Of course, none of those responses was as memorable as the last, when the crowd didn’t even have time to react to Sheridan’s potentially heroic baseline slam before watching in horror as the Hoyas dropped the ultimate bomb on their bash.

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