A half-court, desperate heave at the buzzer: That is how the rivalry that helped define the Big East as a premier conference ended.
In the 2013 Big East tournament semifinals, the end of the old Big East was imminent, and first-seeded Georgetown and fifth-seeded Syracuse were slated to face off for the 14th and final time in the conference tournament.
The stands were littered with signs: One read, “The Rivalry is closed,” while another said, “Kiss ’Cuse Goodbye.”
Of course, the game took place in Madison Square Garden, where the conference was built. Gerry McNamara sat on the Syracuse bench. Patrick Ewing’s (CAS ’85) number from his time on the Knicks hung from the rafters. John Thompson Jr. and Derrick Coleman watched from the stands. Jim Boeheim still coached from the sidelines.
It seemed like those who contributed to some of the rivalry’s most noteworthy moments were there to bear witness. An era was ending and everyone knew it.
In the teams’ two previous meetings that season, Georgetown dominated Syracuse. On Feb. 23, the Hoyas handed the Orange a 57-46 loss and ended the Orange’s 38-game home winning streak. The game, fittingly, was reminiscent of the rivalry’s beginning in 1980.
In 1980, Georgetown defeated Syracuse 52-50 in the last men’s basketball game played at Manley Field House. With the win, the Hoyas ended the Orange’s 57-game home winning streak. That was when John Thompson Jr. made the declaration that defined the rivalry: “Manley Field House is officially closed.”
Following Georgetown’s win in 2013, many expected, even begged, current Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III to mimic his father’s speech, to close the Carrier Dome, but he refrained.
“I’m sure you guys are waiting for a Manley Field House-type of statement. You’re not going to get it,” Thompson III said in the postgame press conference. “But it feels good to win here.”
The final meeting in the Big East tournament would be different. There would not be any such dominance. For nearly 40 minutes, Syracuse stayed in control, leading by as many as 12 points in the second half.
Georgetown, however, never let Syracuse pull away. Then, with seven seconds remaining, then-sophomore forward Otto Porter Jr. netted two free throws to tie the game 51-51 and send it into overtime.
In overtime, then-senior guard Brandon Triche and then-junior forward C.J. Fair gave the Orange a 58-55 lead. Then-sophomore guard Jabril Trawick’s attempt to force a second overtime slammed off the backboard.
Syracuse, 58. Georgetown, 55.
The rivalry that had helped define the storied Big East had seemingly ended.
In the fall of 2011, Syracuse announced its intention to leave the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference. In July 2012 it became official: After paying a $7.5 million exit fee, the school would leave July 1, 2013.
For the Hoyas, the last three years will be remembered for postseason failures. After the semifinal loss, the Hoyas were a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, and in their first-round game, Florida Gulf Coast shocked them 78-68.
In 2014, the Hoyas failed to make the NCAA tournament. Although Georgetown defeated Eastern Washington in the first round of last year’s tournament, it again failed to advance to the second weekend, losing to Utah in the Round of 32.
Meanwhile, the Orange are marred by scandal.
Last season, the NCAA cited the Syracuse men’s basketball program and Boeheim for lacking institutional control from 2000-12. Specific violations include improper benefits for players, academic misconduct and a failure to enforce the school’s drug policy.
As a result, the NCAA docked Boeheim 108 victories and 12 scholarships over the next four seasons, suspended Boeheim for nine games and fined the team more than $1 million. Syracuse also missed the entire 2015 postseason following a self-imposed postseason ban.
Neither program is at the height it reached during the heyday of the Big East. One aspect of the good old days will make a triumphant return, however: The rivalry is back on.
The two teams agreed in June 2014 to renew the rivalry with a four-year out-of-conference home-and-home. The first game is set for Dec. 5 at the Verizon Center.
For a majority of the players, it will be the first time facing each other. Only Georgetown senior guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera and senior center Bradley Hayes and Syracuse graduate student guard Trevor Cooney and senior center DeJuan Coleman have played in the rivalry.
“It’ll be exciting. I’ve played in the games before,” Smith-Rivera said. “It’ll be great for us and the young guys who haven’t played against Syracuse.”
Sophomore guard Tre Campbell will be among those who will play in their first Georgetown-Syracuse game. As a Washington, D.C. native, however, Campbell may be more familiar with the rivalry than some of his counterparts.
“That is a great rivalry, a Big East rivalry from the get-go,” Campbell said. “That’s great to get them back with us and that’s going to be another challenge that we are going to have to face.”
Although both schools will relish the four-game series, the future of the rivalry is still in question. Thompson is hopeful the schools can reach a long-term agreement.
“I think time will tell. You know, hopefully that will happen,” Thompson said. “I think the people up there hope so, but it’s just so hard with how fluid intercollegiate athletics is. It’s hard to say definitively, especially these days, because we’re not in the same conference, that this will go on forever. But hopefully it will.”
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