NEW YORK — Like the third edition of title fight between two heavyweight contenders, Syracuse-Georgetown III had the makings of the kind of Big East classic that has defined this conference. It had the venue: Madison Square Garden in New York City. It had the history: one that has been built over the past 30 years in the Big East. And it had the stakes: a chance to advance to conference championship game.
Despite blowing a nine-point halftime lead and allowing No. 5 Georgetown to force overtime, No. 19 Syracuse pulled away in the extra period to win, 58-55, and earn the right to play for Saturday’s Big East championship.
“This was just a great win,” said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim after the game. “We didn’t shoot that well, we didn’t score that many, but we scored just enough.”
With seven seconds to play, Georgetown’s Otto Porter was fouled on a drive toward the left corner of the court while the Hoyas were in the bonus. He sunk both free throws to tie the game at 51-51. Porter finished with 12 points. On the ensuing possession, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams took a pull-up jumper that missed, sending the game into overtime. Carter-Williams finished with three points on 1-of-7 shooting and had six assists and six turnovers.
Syracuse’s defense locked down in overtime, allowing just one Georgetown basket. The Hoyas were within one basket, 55-53, with 2:07 to play when C.J. Fair drove across the lane and dunked on Porter, igniting the Syracuse-friendly crowd at Madison Square Garden and swinging momentum in favor of the Orange.
Fair had struggled up to that point and finished just 3-of-16 from the floor on the night. He stole a pass from Porter on Georgetown’s potential game-tying possession, but missed two free throws with 3.8 seconds remaining that allowed Georgetown to attempt one final half-court heave for the tie, but it was off.
“It’s hard to win three [games against one team in a season], but they’re a really good team,” said Boeheim. “These guys were really gritty and they hung in there and made plays.”
James Southerland continued his impressive three-point shooting run in New York City with 13 points, which included 4-of-10 from three-point range. Through three games in the Big East tournament, Southerland has gone 16-of-25 from behind the arc and has been the one player most consistently able to stretch an opposing defense with his shooting range. He has tied the conference record for three-pointers in a single tournament, also held by current Syracuse assistant Gerry McNamara.
“First of all, I just want to apologize to G-Mac. Sorry, man. I didn’t mean to do it,” Southerland said with a laugh.
This is the way many will remember the Big East as it was. With shifts motivated by factors other than what we saw Friday night at Madison Square Garden, something Boeheim acknowledged after the game.
“This has got nothing to do with basketball. This is about football,” Boeheim said. “It’s where everything is going. Just wait a few more years. Everybody will be gone.”
There will still be a Big East and its tournament will still be at Madison Square Garden, but this feels a lot like starting back at the beginning. Syracuse and its football motives will move on, as will Pittsburgh and Notre Dame and the others. Will the same magic be around next season, sans the interlocking rivalries and story lines that the Orange will leave behind in pursuit of the ACC? We’ll see next March.
For now, Syracuse has one last go around in the Big East final Saturday night.