A Miracle for Hoyas On Boise Hardwood

It’s good! It’s good! Those are the only words needed to describe Nat Burton’s drive to the hoop that brought Georgetown its first NCAA tournament victory since the Iverson era.

A fitting game for the Hoyas, it had a little bit of everything that the Hoyas have done this season. Solid inside defense. Poor free-throw shooting. Everyone contributing. Back-and-forth turnovers. Ugly but good.

In the end, it was a win. A victory on the national stage that showed everyone that Georgetown is back, strength of schedule be damned.

One of the biggest knocks on the Hoyas this season was their inability to win close games (Pittsburgh, Villanova, St. John’s, Notre Dame) and struggles against teams that press (Providence, St. John’s). Nothing like a buzzer-beating win over the patented `40 Minutes of Hell’ press of the Razorbacks to quiet the critics.

It pushed the Hoyas to the round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, where Georgetown will take on Hampton, the MEAC champion and No. 15 seed that upset Iowa State last night. Now who’s whining about all those games Georgetown plays against MEAC teams like Howard, Bethune Cookman and Maryland-Eastern Shore.

No matter what happens the rest of the way, the Hoyas showed the rest of the nation that they are more than a mediocre team with no non-conference schedule strength. I hope the NCAA tournament selection committee was paying attention as the vaunted Big 10 conference went 1-3 tonight, while the Big East and its poor non-conference schedules started 2-0 in the big dance.

For Georgetown, the win was the consummate team effort, as Kevin Braswell led the team in scoring with 12 points and was essential in breaking the Arkansas press, but every single player on the court seemed to come up with a big play at one point or another.

The backcourt did a great job of breaking the Razorbacks’ press, with Braswell and Demetrius Hunter rarely getting trapped while bringing the ball up, and the big men doing a good job of quickly swinging the ball down the court into the Hoyas’ offensive end.

Inside, Georgetown did not dominate at the offensive end against the substantially shorter Razorbacks, but the Hoyas finally took advantage of the height differential in the second half, dominating the boards 28-12 after halftime. The starting frontcourt of Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje and Mike Sweetney combined for 21 rebounds, while forwards Victor Samnick and Lee Scruggs contributed six rebounds apiece off the bench.

Even much-maligned Gerald Riley, who has struggled through a difficult couple months after a strong start to the season, hit a pair of clutch free throws down the stretch.

But in the end, it all came down to a senior who represents everything that is great about the Georgetown basketball program. A D.C. native, Burton has always been the scrappy, hardworking Hoya, breaking into the starting lineup during his sophomore year not because of great talent, but his willingness to leave it all on the court.

Burton graciously stepped aside this season as freshman Gerald Riley earned a spot in the starting lineup, but he always made the best of his time on the court, fighting for rebounds against taller opponents while finishing with the highest field goal percentage of any regular.

After three seasons in the NIT, there was no doubt how badly Burton wanted an NCAA win, and he was at his best today in 31 minutes on the court, the most time of any of the four seniors despite often being the least recognized of the quartet. It was vintage Burton, as he only scored six points and pulled down four boards, but he seemed to be all over the court, a thorn in the side of the Razorbacks.

As time wound down in the closing seconds of a tie game, the ball wound up in his hands.

The seconds ticked off the clock and Braswell tried to free himself for a jump shot, but the Razorbacks were all over him. This left Burton only one option, and he drove down the lane to the hoop and lifted a running layup toward the hoop as both the shot clock and game clock expired. It took a minute for the zebras to decide if it was good, but in the end there was joy in Hoyaville, as mighty Burton had closed it out.

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