NEW YORK – Da’Sean Butler sidled off the floor at Madison Square Garden Thursday afternoon with a broad smile pasted across his face. The lanky West Virginia sophomore forward was thrilled about what had just transpired on the floor, a six-point victory for his Mountaineers over fourth-seeded Connecticut. He was also looking forward to what would follow the next day: a chance to avenge The Block.

Almost two months have passed since Georgetown senior forward Patrick Ewing Jr. slapped Butler’s buzzer beating layup away on Jan. 27, denying the Mountaineers a narrow upset victory over the mighty Hoyas.

Today, Butler and fifth-seeded West Virginia (25-9, 11-7 Big East) get another shot at knocking Georgetown (25-4, 16-3) from its lofty perch, this time in the Big East Tournament semifinals.

“I’m just looking forward to playing them again,” Butler said after the Mountaineers’ 78-72 victory over UConn Thursday afternoon. “We did very well against [Georgetown] last time, just came up a little short. It should be a good game.”

For the second straight day, Georgetown faces a past opponent intent on righting a game-deciding (mis)judgement by conference officials. On Thursday, the Hoyas cruised past Villanova in the quarterfinals after narrowly escaping the Wildcats on Feb. 11. The regular season meeting was decided by a phantom foul call which sent senior guard Jon Wallace to the free throw line for the deciding points.

Following their first clash with Georgetown in Morgantown, the Mountaineer faithful swore Ewing’s swat was an illegal goal tend and felt the home team had been robbed of a crucial conference win. Anyone who saw WVU Head Coach Bob Huggins’ tirade following the 58-57 loss on Jan. 27 knows the passion will be running high come tip off tonight.

Huggins has his group playing well as of late. The Mountaineers knocked off Providence Wednesday afternoon before slipping past the Huskies yesterday, and no one has been hotter than junior Joe Alexander. The forward exploded for 34 points against UConn, the best Big East tournament performance in school history. The 6-foot-8 swingman poses a problem for opposing defenses with his shooting guard’s soft touch and post-player’s raw power.

“He’s a hard guard,” Huggins said of Alexander. “He’s done a great job of listening and learning and being a heck of a post player, but we can also get him out on the floor whenever he’s got a big on him.”

Slowed by a pulled groin, Alexander was a non-factor in the first meeting, scoring only seven points on 2-of-5 shooting. With Alexander at full health and Butler averaging 17 points per game in the tournament, the Hoyas will have to play tough defense in order to advance to their second straight conference final.

Although he did not yet know who his team would face Friday night, Georgetown Head Coach John Thompson III voiced his concerns about the next day’s game.

“This is the Big East Tournament, and whoever you are going to play, they are going to be playing well,” Thompson said after a 82-63 win in the quarterfinals. “I don’t think [the Villanova game] was our best punch, because our best punch involves the big fella.”

Thompson was referring to senior center Roy Hibbert, who was held scoreless against Villanova and fouled out midway through the second half.

“That can’t happen, Thompson said. “He has to get the ball, and he has to score. The foul trouble made him tentative, but that’s something that can’t happen and won’t happen again.”

Wallace and his junior backcourt mate Jesse Sapp kept the Hoyas afloat Thursday with an outstanding shooting performance. Sapp, a New York native, denied playing better in front of a hometown crowd, but his coach reckoned otherwise.

“Jesse plays well when he gets a chance to give his mama a hug,” Thompson said with Sapp smirking beside him. “That’s why he plays well when he comes here to the city. But I have said it before, Jesse makes plays.”

Over the course of the season, Sapp has proved able on the grand stage and the back roads alike. It was Sapp, after all, who sank the winning three in Morgantown in January. But that was long ago, and Thompson knows that once March rolls around, past victories are inconsequential. Unless, of course, a team is harboring a personal vendetta against you.

“Teams in this league are too well-talented, too well-coached, too poised to think that you can just run away from somebody,” Thompson said. “We’ll see.”

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