- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

NEW YORK — Georgetown had a shot at the show.

A potential game-tying jumper by Ashanti Cook fell just short with 1.5 seconds remaining last night at Madison Square Garden, allowing No. 12 Connecticut to escape the Big East tournament quarterfinals with a 66-62 victory over Georgetown.

The Hoyas (17-12) almost certainly would have punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament with a victory over the co-Big East champs. And though they played valiantly against superior personnel, the loss almost certainly dooms Georgetown to the NIT.

Ironically, the Hoyas’ performance might have been their best of the season.

“I sincerely want to congratulate Georgetown,” said Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun after watching his Huskies (22-6) scrape out a seventh straight victory. “If they make a 3-pointer at the end, we’re going home. We played 28 games this season, and they shot the highest percentage (48.0) of anybody against us tonight — better than Carolina, Oklahoma or anybody.

“The NCAA tournament is always looking for teams who would be a tough out, and I hope they take that into consideration when they evaluate Georgetown, because they would be a very, very tough out. … I’m not sure that the team that played the hardest won tonight.”

Calhoun’s endorsement isn’t likely to help, but the Hoyas certainly can leave New York with their heads held high, knowing they reversed the late-season doldrums during which they dropped their final five regular-season games.

During that humbling stretch, nobody else flogged the Hoyas like Connecticut did in Storrs. Just eight days removed from that 81-63 decimation, Georgetown looked transformed on both ends of the floor.

Not only did the Hoyas shoot very well, they committed just 11 turnovers against the merciless Connecticut trap while forcing 16. And while Georgetown was dominated on the glass 33-19 by the team that leads the nation in rebounding margin, some of that was by design as coach John Thompson III had his team falling back to eliminate UConn’s transition attack rather than crashing the boards.

Sophomore reserve point guard Ray Reed did a masterful job of slowing Connecticut jitterbug Marcus Williams, who finished with 10 assists but five turnovers. And the Hoyas got a balanced effort on the offensive end from Cook (17 points, four assists), Brandon Bowman (15 points), Jeff Green (11 points, five assists) and D.J. Owens (13 points).

If freshman point guard Jonathan Wallace had made one or two of his four shots, Georgetown would have played a perfect game for it against the defending national champions, who completed a rare triple-sweep of the Hoyas.

“We did play well,” said Thompson. “Not only is that one of the best teams in this league, it’s one of the best teams in the country. And we were right there. It’s disappointing because we were so close, but I think we showed that we could play with anyone in the country.”

The Hoyas trailed by as many as 12 points in the second half, falling behind 55-43 on a 3-pointer by Williams with 9:42 remaining. But showing the resiliency that defined the team early in the season, Georgetown refused to yield, steadily shaving the margin with a combination of clutch shooting and frenetic defense.

Bowman sank a pair of free tosses to trim the margin to 64-59 with 57 seconds remaining. After a turnover by UConn’s Charlie Villanueva (11 points, eight rebounds), Owens hit a 3 that made it 64-62 and sent the Garden into hysteria with 40 seconds left.

After a very suspect reach-in call on Reed, guarding Connecticut freshman sensation Rudy Gay (17 points), Gay missed the front end of a one-and-one with 25 seconds remaining.

One three-point dagger from an NCAA tournament berth, Georgetown ran a drift for Owens at the top of the key. He had a brief window of opportunity with eight seconds remaining but passed up an NBA 3-pointer and dished to Cook.

The junior guard bobbled the ball initially, lost his edge on the defender and was forced to drive toward the hoop before pulling back for a difficult fall-away 16-footer. Connecticut’s Denham Brown collected the miss with 1.5 seconds left and sealed the game with two free throws at the other end.

“Man, I thought that shot was going down,” Bowman said of Cook’s final effort. “I thought it was at the bottom of the net. They don’t get any closer. This one stings beyond words.”

No. 16 Syracuse 81, Rutgers 57

Gerry McNamara scored 25 points and Hakeem Warrick added 23 to lead the Orange (25-6) to a victory over the Scarlet Knights (10-19).

Warrick, the conference’s player of the year, grabbed 13 rebounds as Syracuse, which was last in the semifinals in 2003 when it won the national championship, had a 43-32 advantage on the boards.

Quincy Douby scored 14 points to lead Rutgers.

West Virginia 78, No. 7 Boston College 72

Mike Gansey scored 21 points and the Mountaineers (20-9) hung on to upset the Eagles (24-4), ruining BC’s bid for a final conference championship before joining the ACC.

Kevin Pittsnogle added 17 points for West Virginia, which very likely wrapped up an NCAA tournament bid with the surprising win over the Big East’s top seed.

West Virginia, the No. 8 seed, advanced to its first semifinal.

Craig Smith scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds for Boston College.

No. 19 Villanova 67, No. 22 Pittsburgh 58

Randy Foye scored 23 points and the Wildcats (22-6) won their eighth straight game, beating the Panthers (20-8).

The loss ended Pittsburgh’s four-year run of championship game appearances. The Panthers’ only title in that span came in 2003.

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