NEW YORK -- A week ago, it seemed the only title at Madison Square Garden within Georgetown's reach this season would be the National Invitation Tournament title.
But the Hoyas took another step yesterday in saying, "Thanks, but no thanks," to the NIT selection committee, using a dominating defense to smother Providence, 71-55, and earn a spot in today's Big East Conference tournament championship game at the Garden.
The sixth-seeded Hoyas will play fourth-seeded Seton Hallwhich earned its first berth in the Big East championship with a last-second, 74-72 win over Villanova. The berth in the final for Georgetown (18-11) is a surprise for a team that just last week -- after losing five of its last six regular-season games -- was considered a long shot for a National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament berth.
The Hoyas responded, as the nation's best defense held Providence (17-12) to 28.4 percent shooting (19 of 67) and kept in check all-Big East guard Eric Murdock (17 points, six of 20 from the field).
"I've watched Nevada-Las Vegas play, and I think that's a greateam, but Georgetown -- if they're not the best defensive team in the nation, they're one of the best," Providence coach Rick Barnes said. "They should be ranked and, before this is all over, they will be ranked."
And the Hoyas will be difficult to beat if they shoot the way thedid yesterday. A 40.6 percent shooting team in Big East play, the Hoyas shot 51.9 percent. Going into the tournament, the Hoyas had not won by more than 14 since beating Jackson State, 78-54, on Jan. 2. Now they have back-to-back wins by 19 and 16 points.
"It's a special satisfaction in that we feel we are about to brewarded for our hard work," Georgetown coach John Thompson said, referring to the expected NCAA berth. "But we're not finished yet, and our kids understand that."
Georgetown won't have to sweat out an invitation if it duplicateyesterday's performance against Seton Hall. The Hoyas never trailed and led by as many as 19. Providence was within 51-50 with 7 minutes, 10 seconds left, but the Hoyas ran off 13 straight points -- capped by a monster dunk by Dikembe Mutombo with 2:38 left -- to take a 64-50 lead.
Georgetown's freshman trio of Joey Brown (13 points, fivassists), Lamont Morgan (10 points) and Charles Harrison (eight points, six assists, five rebounds) played with the poise that they've been criticized for lacking. Mutombo took only eight shots from the field, but scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
But Alonzo Mourning was the spark. Showing no ill effects frothe strained left arch that sidelined him for nine games, the 6-foot-10 junior scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds. He is averaging 20 points in his past three games.
"Alonzo Mourning's back, and he's playing very well," Barnesaid. "It's a credit to our team that we were able to play with them for as long as we did."
In the early game, Seton Hall (21-8) beat Villanova (16-14) for the eighth straight time, as Oliver Taylor hit his second game-winning, final second shot in as many days.
Down by five with less than three minutes left, the Pirates rallieto tie at 72 with 29 seconds left and had the ball. Holding for one shot, Taylor -- whose driving layup just before the horn beat Pittsburgh, 70-69, Friday -- backed in on Villanova's Chris Walker and hit a short jumper with two seconds left for a 74-72 lead. The Wildcats weren't able to get off another shot.
"He wasn't the first option at the end, he was the only option,Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo said of Taylor, who was the fourth option against Pittsburgh. "It's tough when you isolate somebody one-on-one."
The Pirates won despite an off game by guard Terry Dehere, 19.9-point-per-game scorer who had just seven on 2-for-12 shooting. But Seton Hall shut down Villanova's Greg Woodard, who also scored seven on just six shots.
Georgetown and Seton Hall split two games this season, wit each winning on the other's home court.