Typical Georgetown vs. Syracuse. Typical high emotions. Typical drama. Not such a typical ending.
The Georgetown women’s basketball team traveled into Northern New York last Saturday, riding high on a 10-game winning streak and having not lost a game since mid November. Over 1,100 people filed into the stands, the most of the season so far for Syracuse.
Last Saturday’s win over the hated Orange put the win streak at 11, propelling Georgetown into the Top 25 rankings for the first time under Head Coach Terri Williams-Flournoy, with the Hoyas nestled at the 25 spot of the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. Georgetown’s move into the national polls coincided with Syracuse’s fall from No. 23 to unranked. The Hoyas were last nationally-ranked during the 1992-1993 season.
“It’s great!” Williams-Flournoy said of her team’s ranking, as the Hoyas are now 12-2 and 1-0 in Big East play.
The Syracuse victory was a crucial road win for the Hoyas against a ranked opponent. But that has been nothing new for Georgetown. The Hoyas came into the game having already played ranked teams in James Madison, Dayton and Purdue away from home. The Blue and Gray handed Purdue a stunning loss on its own home court in November, and the Hoyas lost by just three points to both James Madison and Dayton. It was Syracuse’s first loss of the season, and the win started Georgetown off on the right foot in the conference standings – for now.
But this is Big East play, and things will only get tougher. The 2009-2010 Big East Conference contains No. 1 Connecticut (13-0), as well as No. 3 Notre Dame (13-0), No. 17 West Virginia (14-1) and No. 22 Pittsburgh (11-4). Syracuse still remains a threat, as are St. John’s (13-2) and DePaul (12-4).
Turnovers, or rather Georgetown’s ability to cause so many of them, have become the crown jewel of the Hoyas’ arsenal and their rise into the national rankings. Georgetown leads the Big East in steals per game, averaging over 15.
ore impressive is the Hoyas’ turnover margin. Georgetown forces nearly 11 more turnovers than it commits. Its average of +10.79 is more than two turnovers better than No. 1 UConn’s +8.54 average. The Hoyas have also been very effective against the three, allowing opponents to shoot just 28 percent from beyond the arc, ranking fifth in the Big East.
And the Hoyas have made those turnovers count. Georgetown ranks third in the Big East in points per game (74.8) and assists per game (17.6). On Saturday night, Williams-Flournoy’s unit forced 33 Syracuse turnovers, which led to 31 Georgetown points.
“Our defense – that’s what we do. Thirty-three turnovers, that’s ridiculous! You can’t win with 33 turnovers,” junior guard Monica McNutt said.
cNutt led the defense with four steals, while sophomore Adria Crawford and freshman Ta’Shauna “Sugar” Rodgers had three apiece. On the other end, McNutt led the attack once again, scoring 23 points, including a perfect 11-of-11 performance from the charity stripe. The Hoyas free-throw shooting turned out to be a huge difference in the game, as the Blue and Gray shot 27-of-29, a 93 percent success rate. Syracuse shot just under 64 percent, going 21-of-33.
“[To shoot] 27-of-29 from the free throw line – that’s something you don’t see everyday,” McNutt said.
Yet the Orange hit three crucial free throws when they counted. Georgetown led throughout the first half of the game, trailing just once. After Syracuse hit a three pointer with just under three minutes remaining in the half to cut its deficit to three, Crawford scored five straight points, including three on free throws, to put Georgetown up by eight at the half.
In the second half, the Orange used a run to get themselves back into the game. After the Hoyas led by 10 at the 11-minute mark, Syracuse embarked on a 19-9 run to tie the score at 67 with just four minutes remaining. But a layup by sophomore forward Tia McBride gave the Hoyas the lead back and they wouldn’t relinquish it – that is, until the final ticks of the game. With 24 seconds left, McNutt was fouled.
After hitting her two shots, Georgetown led 75-72. After a Syracuse timeout, the Orange had the ball with five seconds left, and the ball founds its way into the hands of senior forward Nicole Michael, who leads the Orange in points per game and rebounds. Michael heaved a last second desperation three, jumping into Crawford on the attempt. The whistle blew. The foul was called. Michael would have three shots and a chance to tie the game.
“Adria was just too close,” Williams-Flournoy said. “In the first place, we shouldn’t have allowed [the Orange] to pass Nicole Michael the ball. But it was just one of those things where Adria was too close. In that situation, you’re just better off letting her shoot the ball.”
ichael sank all three free throws, sending the game into overtime.
“Sometimes, things like that just happen,” McNutt said. “My freshman year, they hit a shot, a three pointer, it hits the top of the backboard, and it goes in. Last year there was a buzzer beater [by senior Shanice Fuller]. We had dominated most of the game already. But it’s a game of runs and they got back into it. So another five minutes, that was just another chance for us to do what we do.”
The overtime period saw three lead changes and three ties, the same amount that had occurred in the 40 minutes of regulation. After Syracuse took a two-point lead, it was McNutt, who played 43 of the 45 total game minutes, who hit two more free throws to tie it up. After another lead by the Orange, Crawford stepped up and hit two free throws of her own to tie the game once again. Syracuse held the ball with just 35 seconds remaining.
Then the Hoyas forced another turnover, and Georgetown had a chance to win the game because of its trapping defense.
“For Syracuse, it’s a huge rivalry, but nothing changes,” McNutt said. “We didn’t change anything playing our 1-2-2 [defense]. We work on it every day in practice to get all of the kinks out, because that’s our bread and butter.”
With 20 seconds left, Rodgers hit a jumper, giving the Blue and Gray the lead. A missed three pointer by Syracuse followed, and Georgetown was victorious.
Rodgers, who has taken the Hilltop by storm as a freshman, finished with 20 points, while Crawford had seven points and six rebounds. Senior forward Jaleesa Butler led the team with nine rebounds and two blocks, sophomore guard Rubylee Wright led with six assists and McBride finished with 12 points. McNutt also added five rebounds.
“I mean it was great, the feeling was good, both teams played extremely hard. It’s been the typical Georgetown-Syracuse basketball game.” Williams-Flournoy said. “It came down to the bittersweet end. It was great. But you know, everybody wants this to seem like it was hard or this was something new. But we had beaten them before and we knew we could do it again.”
Last year, Georgetown toppled the Orange not once, but twice, with the second game ending in a 73-72 win after Fuller hit a shot to win in dramatic fashion. That trend continued this year, but this time, the win propelled the Hoyas onto the national landscape.
“I came in as a freshman and we got new coaches, and I remember I said to [Assistant] Coach [Keith] Brown, `I don’t want to be part of a losing program,’ and he said, `Don’t worry, you won’t.’” McNutt said. “These girls are extremely devoted. So, we’re going to start [at the 25 spot] and we are very appreciative of it and we thank [the coach's poll] very much for noticing us, but we’re not done. Why stay at 25? Why not try for 10.”
Williams-Flournoy was also excited about the ranking, but she also recognized that her squad still has room for improvement.
“We still have to make sure that we avoid the little mistakes that can occur during the game, like turning the ball over ourselves and rebounding,\” she said. “But [the ranking] is great. The girls are really excited.”
So let it be known. Georgetown is now a national contender.”
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