Braswell’s 40-point performance Proves Unstoppable to Cavs

By Sean P. Flynn Hoya Staff Writer

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., March 15 – Forget that this was “just” the National Invitation Tournament. Georgetown’s battle with Virginia was the recipe for the type of classic game that people will talk about for ages: A steaming-hot gym. Three overtimes. A crowd of 8,251 impassioned fans making deafening noise for all of the game’s 55 minutes. Two teams using the last of their energy to keep their seasons alive. Heroes, likely and unlikely.

And finally, a grueling 3 hours 10 minutes after the start, it was the unlikeliest hero of them all, Georgetown junior walk-on Gharun Hester, star wide receiver for the football team, who sank his first career three-pointer with 31 seconds remaining in triple overtime to clinch Georgetown’s amazing 115-111 victory in the first round of the NIT at University Hall.

After the game, the Hoyas’ two leading scorers, Lee Scruggs and Kevin Braswell, were so sapped of energy that they were hooked to IVs. Down the hall, some of the Virginia players were crying. Inside the arena, about 35 Georgetown fans who had made the trip from Washington were celebrating at half court.

“That was one of the craziest games that I’ve ever been associated with,” said Head Coach Craig Esherick, who himself looked like he could use an IV after the game, Georgetown’s first triple-overtime jaunt since 1954.

Hester’s basket gave Georgetown a 112-109 lead, and when the Cavaliers missed an open three-pointer, the Hoyas got the rebound. Three of six free-throw shooting in the last 15 seconds was enough to get Georgetown the victory.

“I just think it’s an accomplishment that we had five players who were healthy when the horn went off,” Esherick said.

The statistics don’t lie in telling the story of an extraordinary game. The 226 combined points set an NIT record and tied a Georgetown mark. The 12 three-pointers also tied a school record.

Virginia (19-12), a team that felt it was snubbed after being left out of the 64-team NCAA Tournament field, had four players with at least 20 points and became the first team to score 100 points against the Hoyas since Seton Hall did it in 1976.

Maybe the most impressive stat was Braswell’s hard-earned 40 points. The sophomore guard was simply brilliant in his Georgetown-record 49 minutes, especially all three overtimes to finish with a career high and the first 40-point performance since Allen Iverson scored 40 against Seton Hall in 1996. Clearly exhausted, Braswell made 10 of 12 free throws and four of six field goal attempts during overtime and showcased superb dribbling and passing to keep the Hoyas (19-14) afloat in all 15 minutes of overtime.

“He was phenomenal,” Virginia Head Coach Pete Gillen said. “He was just too quick, too clever, too cagey.

“Braswell was controlling the game.”

Scruggs did not score in overtime, but his gutsy performance with a hurt right foot was the kind movies are made of. While on the bench, Scruggs looked like a prizefighter before the 12th round, covered in icepacks and writhing in pain while trainer Lorry ichel and manager Ryan Growley toweled him off. But the lanky 6-foot-11 junior forward pleaded with Esherick to stay in the game, and, not wearing his characteristic undershirt because of University Hall’s sweltering heat, Scruggs played more than half of the overtime minutes.

With Scruggs limping, three Hoyas fouled out by the end of regulation, starting center Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje in street clothes because of foot injury and freshman reserve forward Victor Samnick absent because of a thigh injury, the Hoyas needed a boost from their bench players, and they got just that from their six-man rotation.

Hester, who had played 21 total minutes before last week’s Big East Tournament, was a spark plug on defense, with three steals and 10 rebounds. In the third overtime he provided the most important offensive moment of the game, a shot from the right wing after a pass from Braswell.

“[Senior center] Jameel [Watkins] told me to take open shots when I got them, and instinct took over,” said Hester, who had only attempted two three-pointers in his career before the game-clinching shot. Did the All-Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference wide out ever expect to be such a hero when he walked onto the basketball team last season?

“Never in my wildest dreams . I just came to play hard and help the team in any way I can,” he said.

Another improbable hero was senior forward Rhese Gibson who played a career-high 38 minutes, and did not falter in what, with a loss, would have been his last career game. His 13 rebounds, tying a career-high, were an integral part of the Hoyas success in overtime. Showing fatigue as he stepped to the stripe, Gibson sank two important free throws with 44.8 seconds left that gave Georgetown a 101-99 lead in double overtime.

“There’s no timeouts in overtime, so the fatigue starts to wear on you,” Gibson said. “You’ve just got to go to your gut.”

The end of regulation as well as each of the three overtimes were filled with enough drama to leave your fingernails bitten off. Georgetown never led in the second half and trailed 58-43 before going on a remarkable 17-2 run to tie the game, a run lost in the magic of the game’s ending.

In the last four minutes of regulation, the Cavaliers made no field goals and missed six of eight free throws while the Hoyas scrapped back from a 76-69 deficit. With 1:14 remaining, junior guard Anthony Perry (12 points) drove to the lane for a layup, and the game was tied at 77.

After the two teams did not score on their possessions, Virginia had the last shot. But Chris Williams’ jumper was blocked by Scruggs with 1.5 seconds remaining. Then Gibson slapped the ball towards half court, where junior forward Nat Burton launched a shot that banked off the backboard and bounced off the rim, narrowly missing.

In overtime, the Hoyas got their first lead in 29 minutes when Braswell penetrated through traffic to make a layup with 2:57 left. The Hoyas lost the lead with 1:05 on the clock, but Burton tipped in a missed layup by Perry to get the lead back with 51 seconds left.

After a turnover by Virginia’s Adam Hall (21 points, 11 rebounds), Braswell was fouled. Having missed six of his first 11 free throws, Braswell clasped his hands together to summon a higher source and sank both free throws. Donald Hand (22 points) responded with a quick layup, and a quick foul put Braswell back on the line, where he sank both free throws again to give Georgetown an 88-85 lead.

But on the Cavaliers’ last possession, Roger Mason was fouled by Hester while sinking a 12-foot jumper, and the ensuing free throw tied the game. Braswell missed a game-winning three and Hall caught the rebound and, television replays showed, called a timeout he didn’t have.

With the teams preparing for double overtime, Esherick argued with the officials, who had had a hard time all night keeping control with a great number of questionable calls. Esherick strongly contended that Hall had called the timeout before the buzzer had sounded and that the Hoyas should have been awarded a technical foul.

The referees disagreed, and when Esherick stomped toward the sideline television screen on the side of the court, the referees rang Esherick up for a technical foul. Hand made the two free throws and Virginia started the period with a 90-88 lead.

In double overtime, the two teams, feeling the toll of 45 minutes of basketball, engaged in a classic duel of three-pointers. A Braswell three from the right wing gave Georgetown a 91-90 lead with 3:31 left. Eleven seconds later, Williams sank a three-pointer to take back the lead. Braswell made two free throws 12 seconds after that to tie the game at 93.

Then Hall made a jumper, and, a Braswell turnover, sank one of two free throws to make the score 96-93. Then Perry, with Esherick yelling at him from the sidelines to pass the ball to an open Scruggs, responded with a three-pointer on the right side with 2:12 left. Hand responded with a three-pointer 17 seconds later, but 14 seconds later, a beleaguered Braswell sank another long three, left of the key, to tie game at 99.

Hand turned the ball over on the Cavs’ next possession, and Gibson was fouled with 44.8 seconds left and sank those free throws to give the Hoyas the lead at 101-99.

But Williams penetrated down the left baseline and scored a layup in the ensuing possession to tie the game. Braswell missed the game-clincher as time expired, and the game went to triple overtime.

In triple overtime, the lead seesawed yet again, but Hester’s surprise three-pointer was the dagger. Twice in the last 15 seconds, Perry made one of two free throws to give Georgetown a four-point lead.

“When you’re in triple overtime, you’re tired, so you’ve got to use your legs and follow through,” Perry said. “Both times I went to the line, I knew I had to make at least one. Both times, the first time I went to the line, I didn’t concentrate and I didn’t follow through.

“The second time, I told myself, ‘You’ve got to make that shot. We’ve got to win this game.'”

And, after a heart-wrenching 55 minutes of basketball, the Hoyas won the game.

“I told them we were going to practice tomorrow, but I was just kidding,” Esherick said.

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