- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

NEW YORK — Georgetown’s stunning stumble at South Florida is now a distant memory.

Gaining postseason momentum and boosting their resume with the NCAA tournament selection committee, the 23rd-ranked Hoyas dropped Marquette 62-59 yesterday to advance to the first of tonight’s Big East tournament semifinals.

Georgetown (21-8) has erased its hiccup in Tampa, Fla., with a pair of victories at Madison Square Garden and, depending upon the remainder of the team’s run here, likely locked itself into the NCAA tournament as either a No. 4 or No. 5 seed.

Tonight’s semifinal opponent is 20-11 Syracuse, which pulled the stunner of the tournament yesterday by ousting top-ranked Connecticut in overtime.

“It’s Georgetown-Syracuse in the Garden. That says it all to anybody who knows anything about the history of this league,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “We’ll see what happens once we throw it up.”

It will be the 12th time Georgetown and Syracuse have met in the Big East tournament, with five of those meetings coming in the championship game. The Hoyas lead the series 6-5, including four title wins.

Georgetown buried Syracuse 68-53 in Washington less than two weeks ago, but if the Hoyas first two days in New York are any indication, they will need to execute far better against a zone defense to topple the Orange and coach Jim Boeheim’s signature 2-3 set a second time.

After senior forward Brandon Bowman bailed out the sluggish Hoyas in their opener against Notre Dame, the squad struggled once again yesterday against Marquette’s matchup zone.

The Golden Eagles (20-10) cheated away from the wings to deny Georgetown the textbook high-post zone entry. Instead, they dared the Hoyas to beat them off the dribble or with available 3-pointers.

But Georgetown once again started cold from the outside, missing five of six first-half 3-pointers and clawing to a 22-22 tie at intermission, based entirely on its own superb defense. Aside from senior sniper Steve Novak (18 points), who made six of his nine 3-point attempts, the Golden Eagles had an equally anemic offense for most of the game.

Ironically, it was Marquette coach Tom Crean who energized the Georgetown offense, doing the Hoyas an enormous favor by switching to a man-to-man defense early in the second half. The Marquette coach hoped to force a few turnovers and jump-start a transition offensive attack powered by his slashing freshman trio of Big East rookie of the year Dominic James (eight points on 2-for-15 shooting), Jerel McNeal (10 points) and Wesley Matthews (14 points).

What happened, was exactly the opposite.

Thompson’s Princeton-based offense has been deadly against man-to-man defenses all season. Just ask Duke or Pittsburgh, two of only three teams all season (the other being Connecticut) to play more man than zone against the Hoyas. They know how those games turned out.

Now, Crean knows.

Georgetown forward Jeff Green (16 points, nine rebounds, five assists) did everything but grab a napkin, knife and fork when Marquette switched to man leading 29-26 with just more than 15 minutes remaining. Instantly emerging from a personal mini-funk, Green slid into his customary position as the team’s high-post trigger man and proceeded to shred Marquette’s defense.

When tightly defended by a slower defender such as Chris Grimm or Dwight Burke, Green exploded around his man to the rim for a series of dunks, layups or trips to the line. When loosely guarded, Green waited for cutters, and his teammates got loose for a series of backdoor layups.

“Did our eyes light up? I’m not sure about that,” Thompson said. “But we felt if we could get them to go man, we could get some easy baskets.”

Georgetown scored on 12 of its 16 possessions against Marquette’s man defense — with eight of those possessions ending in layups or dunks — and marched out to a 53-48 lead before Crean abandoned the defense with just less than 4:00 remaining.

Wednesday’s hero carried the Hoyas from there, as Bowman (14 points, seven rebounds) scored 10 of the team’s final 11 points and converted eight straight free throw attempts down the stretch.

“He was very good again for the same reasons as [Wednesday],” Thompson said. “You make your free throws, come up with loose balls, get big rebounds. I thought he was terrific at doing the things that help you win.”

After taking a 58-50 lead with 37.7 seconds remaining, the Hoyas experienced a few anxious moments thanks to a pair of botched inbounds plays. But Bowman’s unflappable work from the line left Marquette with only a desperate 40-foot heave from McNeal at the buzzer that glanced harmlessly off the low-right edge of the rim.

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