- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2007

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Georgetown’s long-awaited restoration as a national power is complete.

The Hoyas, a chic pick two weeks ago for a deep run in the NCAA tournament, fulfilled the hype yesterday as they rallied from a double-digit deficit to defeat North Carolina 96-84 in overtime and earn the school’s first Final Four berth since 1985.

It was the 19th victory in 20 games for the Hoyas (30-6), who listened the last two days as memories were conjured of the team’s 1982 NCAA title-game loss to the Tar Heels.

This time, Georgetown turned the tables on North Carolina (31-7) to earn a trip to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to meet South Region champion Ohio State (34-3) in the first national semifinal on Saturday.

“It feels pretty good. I’m so proud of these guys,” coach John Thompson III said. “They’ve kind of played the year out in many ways as I thought it would. I knew we’d get better as the year went on. I knew we had a chance to be a very good team when this time of year rolled around. … They believe in us, [and] that’s special.”

The vestiges of the Hoyas’ glory days were apparent all weekend at Continental Airlines Arena — and all season for Georgetown.

John Thompson Jr., the larger-than-life coach who constructed a program into a national power, won a title in 1984 and sent a flurry of players to the NBA, was courtside broadcasting games for Westwood One.

Patrick Ewing, the powerful center on Final Four teams in 1982, 1984 and 1985, was in the building throughout the regional.

Their sons both hold crucial roles for this team, the younger Thompson as the steady third-year coach and Patrick Ewing Jr. as the sixth man. And there is the continuation of the school’s “big man” tradition, with Jeff Green (who scored 22 points and was named the East Region’s most outstanding player) and Roy Hibbert patrolling the paint for these Hoyas.

And it seemed this group would have little chance to enjoy its own glory when it fell behind 50-44 at halftime against the deeper, more athletic Tar Heels and eventually fell behind by 11. North Carolina appeared to have worn down the Hoyas when the Tar Heels took a 75-65 lead with 7:19 left, but Georgetown rattled off seven straight points to energize an increasingly partisan crowd.

The comeback was finally completed when point guard Jonathan Wallace connected on a 3-pointer a few feet behind the line on the left wing to tie the game at 81-81 with 31.2 seconds left. North Carolina settled for Wayne Ellington’s unsettled 3-point attempt in the closing seconds, forcing overtime.

It was no contest from there. Wallace made a backdoor layup on the Hoyas’ first possession, and the Hoyas never surrendered the lead. DaJuan Summers capped a 17-0 run with a thunderous dunk, eliciting a raucous cheer from the crowd of 19,557.

“It was just amazing,” Summers said. “It was overwhelming. I’ve felt that feeling a lot of times this season with a lot of the things we accomplished, but this was one of the best feelings I ever had in my life. You work so hard, and everybody dreams of being in the Final Four, and now we’re here.”

Plenty of Georgetown supporters stuck around for the net-cutting ceremony, before which the younger Thompson started a repeated chant of “We are … Georgetown” with the long-suffering Hoyas fans who remained.

Area teams have made a habit of deep tournament runs in recent years. Maryland reached the Final Four in 2001 and 2002, winning its first title in the latter season. Last March, George Mason’s stirring charge as a No. 11 seed to the Final Four stunned pundits who thought the Patriots were a shaky selection for the tournament.

A No. 2 seed in the East Region and winners of both the Big East regular season and tournament, Georgetown was the subject of plenty of pre-tournament buzz as a potential championship contender.

The Hoyas reached regional finals in 1987, 1989 and 1996, but a steady decline began shortly after the latter run.

John Thompson Jr. retired in the middle of the 1998-99 season, and his successor, longtime assistant Craig Esherick led Georgetown to one NCAA berth in six years. Enter the younger Thompson, who had the Hoyas in the regional semifinals last March, thanks to an upset of Ohio State and took them two steps further this season.

Now, the remaining task is to win twice more and live up to the program’s legacy of the 1984 national champions.

“You can tell with all the people coming back, the former players like Big Pat and Jerome Williams, and you see Big John and those guys hanging around,” Wallace said. “They never left this program. They’re still putting hard work into it, and we’re just trying to represent that name across our chest.”

Added guard Jessie Sapp: “It means a whole lot. A lot of great players went through this program between the last time we came to the Final Four and now. For us to make it back to the Final Four is an honor. I’m just proud to be a Hoya.”

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