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Rivalry alive as Orange oust Hoyas
NEW YORK CITY
In every way possible, the final conference matchup between the two beasts of the old Big East was as storybook as could be.
First, the setting: an electric Madison Square Garden, the most famous arena in the world. Then the revered alumni: Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing squeezing into a tiny chair on one end of the arena near the Hoyas bench, Syracuse’s Derrick Coleman standing and hollering and fist-pumping near the Orange bench.
Then, of course, the game itself: physical, defensive-minded Big East basketball, a game in which each team’s star player — Otto Porter for the Hoyas, Michael Carter-Williams for the Orange — was neutralized by smothering defense on the perimeter and in the paint, and where the role players had outsized influence.
And finally, the ending: overtime.
Of course it went into overtime. Try as they may, this perfectly dysfunctional pairing may never be able to quit each other.
How's this for must-see TV: Even as a TMZ report that Lil Wayne was in a coma and near death rocked the Internet on Friday, the president of his record label assured us that the rapper was OK by tweeting that super hoops fan Wayne was — what else? — watching the Syracuse game.
After all this — Georgetown battling back from 11 down to tie it on two Porter free throws with 7 seconds left ... the most unlikely of Syracuse heroes, offensively challenged big man Baye Keita, making seven free throws and a key tip-in in overtime ... fans who dropped more than $300 for nosebleed seats being treated to one of the best Big East games in history, a 58-55 Syracuse victory — we humbly ask:
Can these two teams keep playing against each other? Like, forever?
They won’t, unless a few geniuses at each school decide to do something crazy and schedule annual non-conference matchups in November. Syracuse is heading to the ACC. Georgetown is heading to the new version of the Big East. So Friday night was the end.
But boy, if you’re gonna go out, this is how you do it.
“I’m happy I’m a senior,” said Syracuse guard Brandon Triche, whose 13 points tied for the team high. “I’m glad I’m not in the ACC and have to play in Greensboro. It’s awesome, just to go out here, get to the championship. I’ve never done that.”
He was asked what seemed like a silly question: What is a bigger deal, beating Georgetown on Friday night or hoisting the Big East tournament trophy the next night?
His answer goes to the heart of what this rivalry means:
“Beating Georgetown probably outweighs that," Triche said. "You’d kind of think we won the championship after we beat Georgetown. And bigger than the rivalry, they beat us by 20 points last time. That means something. That hurts. So when you’re able to beat a team that beat you by 20, pretty much beat you down the whole season, the feeling is unheard of.”
Syracuse looked to be close to running away with it for much of the first 30 minutes, turning the tables after Georgetown’s 22-point blowout of Syracuse a week ago. James Southerland was raining in the 3's, his fourth of the night tying the tournament record for most made in one tourney (16). Porter, whom Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim called the best all-around player he’s seen in three decades of the Big East, scored and was fouled on Georgetown's first possession — and then had only nine points in the next 39 minutes, as Syracuse harassed him with help defense.
But Georgetown grinded, grinded, grinded, and the 11-point lead with 11 minutes left turned into a tie game at the end of regulation after Porter’s ice-cold free throws. The possible blowout had become a classic, a reminder of one more thing that this football-driven realignment has taken away from basketball.
“Fitting that it went into overtime? I think it’s — yeah, it is,” Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. Then the bitterness seeped into his voice: “It’s a shame they’re heading down to Tobacco Road for a few dollars more. This is a rivalry that meant a lot to our program and to their program and to this conference. ... It’s a shame that we are no longer going to have the same type of relationship.”
This is what happens at the end of a long relationship. Someone’s feelings are hurt worse than the other person's. You think you can have a clean break, but you never can. There’s sadness. There’s nostalgia.
“Madison Square Garden is the best place to play basketball in the world,” Boeheim said. “I think everybody knows that, high school, college or pro. I think if you ask any of those groups where they’d like to play, I think they’d say Madison Square Garden. There’s a reason Michael Jordan came in here and dropped 50 or 60 every time. They like to come here. This is the big stage.”
The final game of the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry lived up to that big stage on Friday night. It was being played on 33rd Street, but it easily could have been a Broadway production. You couldn’t have scripted an ending any better than this.
“You never know,” Carter-Williams told FOXSports.com after the win. “We could meet them again in the tournament. You don’t want to say it’s over.”
In a way, it’ll never be over, this supersized rivalry between two teams that, even now, with everything in the past, still can’t seem to find a way to quit each other.
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @ReidForgrave or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.
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