- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 11, 2006

NEW YORK — It took an epic Orange eruption to sour Georgetown’s Big Apple burst.

Syracuse senior Gerry McNamara added another masterpiece to his near-mythic college resume last night at Madison Square Garden, scoring 15 second-half points on a gimpy ankle to rally the Orange to a 58-57 victory over No. 23 Georgetown that stands as the greatest comeback in the history of the Big East tournament.

“He’s a great player, and he showed that tonight,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. “He put them on his back, and he willed them to win. … [Our defensive] energy was on him. And it did not matter. He’s a terrific player who’s a senior who has decided he doesn’t want to lose. That’s the long and short of it.”

McNamara scored 17 points as the ninth-seeded Orange (22-11) turned a 36-21 Georgetown rout at halftime into a historic comeback, sending deflated Georgetown (21-9) back to the Hilltop to await tomorrow’s NCAA tournament selection show. Most pundits believe the Hoyas are likely a No. 5 seed, though last night’s collapse certainly doesn’t help the team’s case.

The disparity between Georgetown’s play in the two halves was stunning. The Hoyas shredded the vaunted Syracuse zone in the first half, putting on a virtual clinic of patient, pass-first basketball. Operating cleanly inside the Orange 2-3 zone, the Hoyas connected on nearly 60 percent of their first-half shots, recorded 11 assists on 13 field goals and matched similarly ultra-polished 20-minute home efforts from earlier this season against Duke (42-28) and West Virginia (37-29).

Interestingly, the Hoyas are now just 1-2 in games featuring such near-flawless openers. Mirroring the second-half collapse against the Mountaineers on Feb. 12 (69-56), Georgetown emerged from intermission last night looking lethargic and self-satisfied. The intensity the Hoyas exhibited in the first half was gone, and the zone-piercing passing and shooting confidence followed.

Senior Darrel Owens (nine points), who drilled three of his four first-half attempts from beyond the arc, missed a pair of 3-pointers shortly after intermission and simply stopped shooting, passing on a slew of open looks.

As guards such Owens, freshman Jon Wallace (10 points, six assists) and senior Ashanti Cook (five turnovers) became tentative from behind the arc, Syracuse began collapsing the zone, effectively denying Georgetown the textbook foul-line entry pass. The result was a series of aesthetically nightmarish possessions where Georgetown simply played catch on the perimeter of the zone before forcing up a desperate jumper or contested baseline bank shot at the end of the shot clock.

“They took away the middle of [the zone], and at the end, we probably were a little stagnant,” Thompson said in one of the understatements of the season.

And while Georgetown lost its identity in the second half, the Orange found theirs, methodically chipping away at the lead behind McNamara, who electrified both his teammates and the Garden by connecting on three consecutive 3-pointers midway through the half to trim Georgetown’s lead to 45-41 with 10:23 remaining.

The teams haltingly exchanged buckets down the stretch, with the Hoyas keeping the Orange in the action by missing nine of their 17 free-throw attempts. Ordinarily reliable from the line, the Hoyas missed eight second-half free throws, including five straight on three consecutive possessions around the 4:00 mark that would have given the Hoyas a comfortable working margin. Senior forward Brandon Bowman (12 points), center Roy Hibbert (nine points, 13 rebounds) and forward Jeff Green (10 points) combined to make just five of 13 second-half free throws.

“You make your foul shots, and it’s a different game,” Thompson said. “We haven’t had that happen too much.”

As it was, despite a stagnant offense and the missed opportunities from the line, the Hoyas still had an excellent chance to win down the stretch. They led 57-53 with just under a minute remaining, but just as he has throughout his career and in every game this week, McNamara was Mr. Clutch. Hobbling on the ankle that left him only “50 percent,” McNamara looped home a rainbow 3-pointer over Hibbert’s 7-foot-2 frame to cut the score to 57-56 with 48 seconds remaining.

Georgetown then held the ball deep into the shot clock before Cook was stripped attempting to penetrate. McNamara — of course — came up with the loose ball and fed Eric Devendorf for a transition layup to give the Orange its first lead of the game with 9.3 seconds left.

And then McNamara rose up once more, tying up a driving Cook as Georgetown tried for a potential buzzer-beating game winner. Cook was called for traveling with less that two seconds remaining, and the Syracuse celebration began.


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