FILE PHOTO/THE HOYA ARCHIVES ANYTHING YOU CAN DO ... High-scoring guards Ray Allen (left) and Allen Iverson (right) battled for Big East supremacy in the 1995-96 season.
FILE PHOTO/THE HOYA ARCHIVES
ANYTHING YOU CAN DO … High-scoring guards Ray Allen (left) and Allen Iverson (right) battled for Big East supremacy in the 1995-96 season.

Georgetown’s demolition of Syracuse last weekend left the packed Verizon Center in a state of near-ecstasy, as 20,000 die-hard fans watched their team close the book on its most heated rivalry in a decisive fashion.

But when the dust settled — after Head Coach John Thompson III and company had cut down the last pieces of the net, as gleeful fans streamed out the door and Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim wearily settled in behind his press conference microphone — a sad realization permeated the room:

It’s over.

The old Big East is going the way of the dodo, thanks to the irresistible pull of football-driven TV deals and subsequent realignment hysteria. While the conference the Hoyas call home next season will bear the same name and play its tournaments in the same venue, it won’t be the same conference. Founding members Syracuse and Connecticut — as well as Pittsburgh, Louisville and other add-ons that Hoya Nation has come to know and love to hate — won’t join Georgetown and the reborn Big East.

Former Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson Jr. left no ambiguity as to his feelings on the subject to reporters outside the press conference room Saturday afternoon.

The Hilltop legend’s sermons have gotten quieter and more measured since his days dominating the Big East of the 1980s. But they’re no less profane, and — more importantly — no less honest.

“It’s a damned disgrace,” he said. “All of them run around talking about the educational purposes — that’s bullshit. All of us have made money. All of us have turned down money. You have to reflect on what’s important to you.”

Unfortunately for Thompson Jr. and the scores of like-minded fans, there’s no turning back now. The breakup of the Big East is set in stone; West Virginia is gone already, and Syracuse and Louisville have their feet out the door. This weekend marks the final Big East tournament, which Georgetown enters as the No. 1 seed, poised to capture a record eighth title.

It’s likely that Georgetown’s future will be filled with more priceless memories from Madison Square Garden in future years. Old friends like Villanova and St. John’s will join new additions Butler and Xavier to lay the foundations for more heated rivalries and memorable conference tournaments, a prospect that has  excited even the most pessimistic fans.

But for now — out of respect for the incredible institution to which we bid farewell — we can reflect on the most thrilling triumphs, most devastating heartbreaks and all-around greatest moments from the Hoyas’ annual March trip to The World’s Most Famous Arena.

 

MARCH 10, 1984: GEORGETOWN 82, SYRACUSE 71 (OT)

With one play in the 1984 Big East championship game, forward Michael Graham brought the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry closer to Israel-Palestine than to Ohio State-Michigan.

The 6-foot-9 Graham, frustrated during a struggle over a loose ball, took an open-handed swing at Orangeman Andre Dawkins in the closing minutes of a tight game. After a brief deliberation, the officials elected to call only a two-shot foul on Graham for what many saw as an ejection-worthy offense.

Boeheim was livid.

“Michael Graham, in front of 19,000 people, punched my player, and the ref had the nerve to call it a two-shot foul,” he said after the game. “Today, the best team didn’t win.”

The Blue and Gray won the game in overtime, and with it, its third Big East championship. Patrick Ewing earned his first of two tournament MVP awards, but Graham played an important role as an enforcer for the physical Hoyas. Former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese would later cite the game as one of the conference’s most memorable.

“The caliber of player, the intensity — it was a physical war,” Tranghese told The New York Times. “It epitomized what the Big East was: a street game, in New York City, in Madison Square Garden. No place for the faint of heart.”

With Graham’s help, that 1984 team would go on to win the school’s first and only national championship. The March 10 incident added fuel to the Hoyas’ image as college basketball’s bad boys, which had grown as the brash Thompson Jr. and his team’s physical play earned national fame.

MARCH 15, 1992: SYRACUSE 56, GEORGETOWN 54

In four meetings in the Big East championship in the 1980s, Thompson Jr.’s Hoyas got the best of Boeheim’s Orange every single time. Syracuse senior Dave Johnson made sure that trend didn’t extend into the 1990s.

Johnson broke a 54-54 tie in the 1992 championship game, hitting a short jumper with seconds to play that gave Syracuse its first-ever win over Georgetown on the conference’s biggest stage. The Hoya’s Andrew Kim described the scene in detail:

“In a battle of last-second heroics, Syracuse would emerge the victor as senior forward Dave Johnson rose above the lane and sank an arcing game-winner with four seconds left. The shot was just out of reach of senior center Alonzo Mourning, the nation’s leading shot-blocker.” (A8, March 20, 1992)

Johnson’s shot spoiled a storybook tournament for Mourning, who was named MVP despite his team’s loss. Boeheim got a giant bulldog-shaped monkey off his back with the win, and Syracuse earned a spot opposite — rather than under — Georgetown in the ranks of Big East royalty. The loss set the stage for a decade of disappointing Big East tournament results for talented Georgetown squads.

 

MARCH 9, 1996: CONNECTICUT 75, GEORGETOWN 74 (OVERTIME)

Perhaps the biggest 1990s heartbreak for the Blue and Gray came at the hands of Jesus himself.

Jesus Shuttlesworth, that is.

Basketball superstar and future movie star Ray Allen closed the heated 1996 Big East player of the year debate once and for all in the championship game, when his off-balanced jumper with 13 seconds left in overtime lifted UConn over the Allen Iverson-led Hoyas.

The shot capped a furious 12-0 Connecticut run that erased Georgetown’s substantial lead in the closing minutes of overtime. Iverson attempted to respond with a fallaway jumper of his own, but it bounced off the rim.

Days earlier, Allen had been named conference player of the year over Iverson, Villanova guard Kerry Kittles and Syracuse guard John Wallace. The Iverson-Allen comparison in particular had sparked contentious debate in the world of college basketball punditry, as the two stars raced neck-and-neck for the conference scoring title and their teams struggled for the top seed in the tournament.

Iverson won the scoring title by putting up 25.4 points per game in conference play to Allen’s 23.7, but the UConn star got the last laugh, as the Huskies took both the regular-season and tournament titles. It was only appropriate, though, that the season come down to a battle between the two superstars.

The strangest part of the whole event? In a tournament remembered as a legendary duel between future NBA stars Iverson and Allen, the MVP award went to Georgetown’s Victor Page.

 

 

MARCH 9, 2007: GEORGETOWN 84, NOTRE DAME 82

The Georgetown program suffered through the late 1990s and early 2000s in a general state of mediocrity, reeling from the departure of Thompson Jr. The Big East tournament was no exception — the Hoyas failed to even appear in a conference final from 1997 to 2006.

The hiring of John Thompson III in 2004 breathed new life into the program. The Hilltop legend’s eldest son — armed with a talented and experienced team — took the Big East and the nation by storm in 2007. Jeff Green, DaJuan Summers, Roy Hibbert and the top-seeded Hoyas marched into the Big East tournament as the team to beat.

While Georgetown was undoubtedly stacked that year, Green was the true star. Unsurprisingly, it was Green who provided most thrilling moment of the Big East tournament — for Hoyas fans, at least — since the mid-1990s.

In a tight semifinal game against red-hot Notre Dame, Green got the ball on the left block with under 20 seconds to play and the score knotted at 82. The Big East player of the year spun and lofted a right-handed baby hook that fell through the net just after the referee whistled a foul on the Irish.

Green missed the free throw, giving Notre Dame a chance to tie or win the game. Russell Carter’s shot rimmed out, and the Hoyas were on their way to their first title game appearance since the glory days of Page, Iverson and Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams.

“It means a lot,” Hibbert, then a junior, told The Hoya’s Brenna McGee. “I saw Jerome Williams in the crowd, and he and Allen [Iverson] were on the last team to play in the championship, so it’s good to see him here.”

Georgetown wiped the floor with Pitt in the title game to give Thompson III his first title. The Hoyas would ultimately advance to the Final Four, giving the student body its biennial excuse to storm the White House.

 

MARCH 13, 2010: WEST VIRGINIA 60, GEORGETOWN 58

For most current students, the triumphant victories of the 1980s are no more than pages in a record book, the thrilling 2007 season simply a faded memory. The successes of the las   t several regular seasons have been marred by postseason disappointment, none more devastating than the 2010 Big East championship game.

Thompson III had led another stacked Georgetown squad to an upset of top-seeded Syracuse in the quarterfinal, then stomped Marquette to set up a date with No. 3 West Virginia in the title game.

WVU’s Da’Sean Butler and Georgetown’s Chris Wright scored 20 points apiece in a high-stakes duel for the tournament MVP award, but it was Butler who got the last laugh.

The senior drove the lane and sank a floater over Austin Freeman to give the Mountaineers a two-point edge with five seconds left. The Hoya’s Ryan Travers detailed the resulting scene in Madison Square Garden:

“After Butler’s pullup went in with five seconds to play, Wright almost did it again, going the length of the court before coming just short of the rim as time expired. As Wright laid on the baseline in despair, Jason Clark ran over and lent his hand to pick up his teammate as West Virginia celebrated in the background.” (thehoya.com, Sunday, March 14, 2010)

The deflated Georgetown squad went on to lose in the NCAA tournament’s first round to red-hot Ohio.

***

Georgetown can’t lay claim to the best game in Big East tournament history. That honor, according to most hoops aficionados, goes to the six-overtime epic fought by Syracuse and Connecticut in 2006. But the Hoyas have played an integral role in writing the exciting history of the powerhouse basketball conference, even if they could not save it from realignment. Even Boeheim, the avowed enemy of all things Blue and Gray, grew slightly nostalgic this week.

“When [Big East founder] Dave Gavitt put this thing together, nobody thought it could ever be anything close to what it became within two years,” he said. “It’s been an unbelievable experience — we never thought it would go like this, and it has.”

With luck, Hoya Nation will find glamorous heroes and detestable villains to join the likes of Green and Allen in the annals of Big East history, as the Blue and Gray spearhead the conference’s rebirth.

“Georgetown won the first one, and now Georgetown’s won the last,” Thompson III said after the Hoyas’ regular-season championship victory.

If the basketball gods wear blue and gray in the sport’s most sacred temple this weekend, the same might hold true for the postseason crown.

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