Phil Sheridan | Hoyas triumph in a real head game

Posted: March 26, 2007

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Sometime in the second half, this game stopped being about basketball. It became a battle of sheer mental toughness, a head game in the guise of an NCAA regional final.

North Carolina had succeeded wildly in running Georgetown ragged, building a 10-point lead in the second half. And yet, it was Carolina coach Roy Williams calling a time-out he didn't want to take because his point guard, freshman Ty Lawson, looked tired.

In its 96-84 overtime victory, Georgetown let the Tar Heels wear themselves out running their fancy fastbreak and then pounced. And when the "cerebral" Hoyas (Williams' word) pounced, it was the near-Ivy League point guard who made the big shot.

Jonathan Wallace not only could have been watching this game from a dorm room or frat house in Princeton, he also probably should have been. Recruited to the Ivy League by former Tigers coach John Thompson III, he faced a strange decision when Thompson left for Georgetown: Stay at Princeton, where he would have been a standout player in the Ivy, or follow Thompson to Washington and try to make the team as a walk-on. Thompson promised Wallace neither a scholarship nor any playing time.

Wallace followed the coach, and he has started every game in his three seasons at Georgetown. Without him on their side last night, the Hoyas would be watching the Final Four in their rooms on campus.

It was Wallace who slipped Lawson's fierce defensive coverage, pulled up, and calmly hit a three-point shot to tie the score at 81 with 31 seconds in regulation. The shot completed an astonishing Georgetown comeback (or Carolina collapse, depending on your perspective), from 10 down with just over seven minutes left.

"Toughness isn't just hard fouls or being willing to fight somebody," said Williams, his red-rimmed eyes swimming in tears. "Toughness is being 10 down and continuing to do what your coach wants. Toughness is Jonathan Wallace making a three-pointer when he knows that, if he misses, his team probably doesn't win."

If you'll follow the coach from Princeton to Georgetown, you'll follow him in the heat of an elimination game.

Down 10, during a time-out, Thompson was smiling in the huddle.

"He's always like that," Wallace said. "He never gets rattled, no matter what. That calms a lot of guys down in the huddle."

You get to this point in the tournament and it's a little like military history. Everyone talks about the coaches the way they talk about the generals who led armies in battle. Relatively little attention is paid to the foot soldiers who make the victories possible.

There were some pretty impressive leaders looming over this game. Williams' mentor was the legendary Dean Smith, and Williams recited what Smith said in a huddle during Carolina's 1982 national championship game against Georgetown.

Thompson has a unique setup. He has followed his father as head coach at Georgetown. So he lives with those comparisons. And yet the younger Thompson models his coaching style on longtime Princeton coach Pete Carril.

"Young John is not his dad," Williams said. "He coaches the best way for him, and that's something that's very strong for him. I'm sure Big John is proud of his son and doesn't feel he needs to be a clone."

After the Hoyas routed Carolina in the overtime, winning that psychological tug of war, the players took turns hugging the elder Thompson. The younger Thompson hustled over and embraced Carril.

"The dude is a legend," Georgetown forward DaJuan Summers said, referring to his coach's father.

"We had to show respect," said Jeff Green.

Thompson embraced his father, too, but it was the Yoda-like Carril he was talking about afterward.

"Coach is a part of every decision I make, on the floor and off the floor, too," Thompson said. "Everything I do, he's in my head. When you talk about the Princeton offense, you're talking about Pete Carril."

And it was the Princeton offense that produced Wallace's moment. He came off a screen, took a perfect pass, and fired up an open shot.

It was Thompson's words from Saturday in action.

"Get five guys," he said. "Work on passing and shooting and defense and then share the ball."

"I wasn't worried because the shot came within the rhythm of the offense," Wallace said. "Lawson went under the screen and I had a good look."

"I have all the confidence in the world in Jon taking that shot," said Green, who played a spectacular game down the stretch. "He makes that shot all the time."

The overtime was still to be played, but the Hoyas' comeback had crushed Carolina's confidence. You could see it. You could feel it in the arena. Georgetown scored the first 14 points in overtime and punched its ticket back to the Final Four.

"We feel we have to honor the history of this program," Wallace said. "But we also feel like we're making our own history now."

Phil Sheridan |


N. Carolina84

Game Report: E3.


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