Ruthie Braunstein/The Hoya Freshman power forward Mike Sweetney (center) continued his solid Big East play with nine points and seven rebounds against Syracuse. Entering the final stretch of regular-season games, the Georgetown men’s basketball team desperately needed a big win. With the Big East Tournament quickly approaching and rising concern about the probability of Georgetown gaining a bid to the NCAA Tournament, the Hoyas had to prove themselves with a solid victory.
Georgetown’s resounding 72-61 win over No. 17 Syracuse (20-7, 8-6 Big East) Saturday was exactly what the Hoyas needed.
The victory was retribution for the Hoyas’ earlier 70-63 loss at the hands of the Orangemen. But more importantly, the win was a re-affirmation for the No. 21 Hoyas (21-6, 8-6 Big East) – a visible assertion that Georgetown is still a contender in the Big East, deserving of a place on the national scene.
“I can’t remember a game that I thought was as big as this in terms of the national picture,” Head Coach Craig Esherick said.
As junior point guard Kevin Braswell stood bouncing the ball high and letting the final seconds of the clock wind down, the 18,189-crowd at MCI Center rose to its feet to cheer the Hoyas’ win, their biggest since defeating then-No. 18 Seton Hall on Jan. 15.
As the buzzer sounded, Georgetown fans rushed the floor while the players embraced each other and celebrated. Beyond the standings and rankings, the Hoyas needed a solid win against a ranked opponent to gain back some of their eroded.
“The most important thing is we got that feeling back, that winning feeling,” sophomore guard Demetrius Hunter said, who led all scoring with a career-high 21 points. Hunter has recently been coping with an injured Achilles tendon and had not participated in a full practice all week. He will continue to receive treatment, though he is expected to remain in the starting lineup.
The Hoyas demonstrated more offensive precision than they have in recent weeks, shooting 49 percent and getting double-digit performances from Hunter, Braswell and senior center Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje.
Defensively, the Hoyas shut down Syracuse forward Preston Shumpert, limiting him to just 1 of 9 shooting from the field. Shumpert, who averaged 20.1 points per game entering Saturday’s contest and had knocked down 23 points against the Hoyas in January, made just one three-pointer and hit five of six free throws for a total of eight points on the day.
With Shumpert effectively guarded by a rotating corps of Hoyas, the Orangemen looked for another offensive outlet. Guard DeShaun Williams hit some big shots early but quickly got in foul trouble. Syracuse struggled to make the shots, hitting 18 of 50 and just 8 of 24 in the second half.
“We didn’t make shots. Game [over],” Syracuse Head Coach Jim Boeheim said.
But it was more than missed shots that doomed the Orangemen, who led just twice, and both times only briefly. Georgetown was able to capitalize on its impressive depth with numerous offensive options throughout the game. Hunter shot 8 of 12, hitting four of seven from three-point range, while senior forward Lee Scruggs hit a key three-pointer in the first half to reclaim the lead from Syracuse.
In the paint, freshman forward Mike Sweetney put up nine points and sophomore forward Victor Samnick provided early power with six points in the first half.
Coming back from a mediocre first-half performance, Boumtje-Boumtje dominated the second half, contributing 10 points and eight rebounds. He also posted four blocks, including two consecutive blocks on shots by Williams and Shumpert with eight minutes to play in the game.
“I’m just trying to do my best and trying to hustle and play hard,” Boumtje-Boumtje said. “This win really boosts our confidence.”
The only serious problem for the Hoyas was free-throw shooting – Georgetown hit just 12 of 28 from the line.
“I thought we were trying to give it away from the line,” Esherick said.
Georgetown was 16-0 through the first part of its season, including two victories over a then-ranked and prominent Seton Hall. Recently, however, several Big East losses knocked the Hoyas down in the rankings.
Saturday’s win should help the Hoyas refocus for the remaining two games of the season and the Big East Tournament, which begins March 7. Georgetown is now tied with Syracuse for second place in the West Division, two games behind No. 18 Notre Dame. With the restructuring of the Big East because of the entry of Virginia Tech, the top two teams in each division at the end of the season will secure a bye in the first round of the conference tournament. Though Georgetown and Syracuse are tied, the Orangemen have one more division loss than the Hoyas, which breaks a tie between the two teams in Georgetown’s favor.
If the Hoyas win their next two games, they will be assured of the bye. Georgetown will play host to Rutgers tomorrow night in the final home game of the season. On Sunday, the Hoyas will head to South Bend, Ind., for a rematch with Notre Dame. The Irish downed the Hoyas 78-71 at MCI Center on Jan. 27.
But division maneuverings seem to be distant in the Hoyas’ minds as they savor their victory over the Orangemen.
“This game right here, it makes you happy,” Braswell said. “We needed it.”
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