NEW YORK -- Georgetown's defense got it to the Big East Conference tournament final, but Seton Hall's defense won the championship.
Setting the tone early with a collapsing, man-to-man defense that frustrated Georgetown's big men, Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning, the Pirates defeated the Hoyas, 74-62, to capture their first Big East championship and earn an automatic bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament. Seton Hall, the No. 3 seed in the West Regional, will play Pepperdine on Thursday in Salt Lake City.
Despite the loss, Georgetown's two tournament wins helped it gain a berth in the NCAAs, as the No. 8 seed in the West. The Hoyas will play Vanderbilt on Friday in Tucson, Ariz.
It was the first Big East tournament championship appearance for Seton Hall -- a team that never had won more than one conference tournament game and was picked to finish seventh in preseason after finishing 12-16 last season. The Pirates (22-8) have won nine of their past 10 and are playing with the same confidence that carried them to the national-championship game 1989.
"It wasn't evident in the preseason, but from Oct. 15 these kids showed they were that good," said Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo, whose team's balanced offense had five players in double figures. "If we can play with anybody in our league, we can play with anybody in the country. It feels good to know there's nobody we can't match up with."
Georgetown (18-12) can match up with anybody in the country on defense, but the offense causes the Hoyas problems. After shooting an un-Georgetown-like 51.9 percent in a semifinal win over Providence, the Hoyas shot 33.9 percent against the Pirates. Mourning led the Hoyas with 22 points and 13 rebounds, but Mutombo (eight points, seven rebounds) was limited to five shot attempts.
"Seton Hall just did an excellent job defensively," Georgetown coach John Thompson said. "It had a strong effect on us, especially with them sagging back in the middle with their weak side."
The sagging defense helped Seton Hall open a 21-10 lead after tournament Most Valuable Player Oliver Taylor (15 points) hit a three-pointer a little more than 10 minutes into the game. A 14-6 run in the final seven minutes had the Hoyas within 31-30 at halftime, but the early jump by the Pirates forced Thompson to go without Mourning and Mutombo together more than he wanted.
"They got the jump, and we had to apply more pressure, so we had to go with a smaller team," Thompson said. "We were able to get back into the game with that, but we just couldn't hit our shots."
Georgetown's only lead, 32-31, came on Mourning's jumper 53 seconds into the second half. But a jumper by Anthony Avent (15 points) started a 6-0 run to make it 37-32. The closest Georgetown got again was 48-44 on two free throws by !c Mourning with a little more than eight minutes left, but the team's inability to get off a good shot -- or hit it when it had one -- was costly. Georgetown scored just five field goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
"This team bought into playing defense early, and when your best players start out with that attitude, it spreads," Carlesimo said. "To come into this tournament and play three times as well as we did, it's very rewarding."
It was also rewarding to Carlesimo that the Pirates didn't need the late-game heroics of Taylor, the point guard who has solidified the position that concerned the Pirates most entering the season. The senior -- a relative unknown before the tournament -- won the quarterfinal and semifinal games with last-second shots.
"I really didn't want to get into those buzzer-beater situations again," said Taylor, who scored 15. "If it came to that, it could have gone the other way. I think we can beat anybody in the country. If we play the kind of defense we played [yesterday], we'll be fine in the tournament."
And Georgetown will be in the NCAA tournament, something that was not clear a week ago, after the Hoyas closed the Big East regular season dropping five of their last six games. Georgetown's defense -- which allows the lowest field-goal percentage in the country -- proved it can give anybody fits.
"My team has been showing a lot of feistiness, so it doesn't matter who we play, because anybody can beat anybody in any game," Thompson said. "It all comes down to style of play and style of officials. "I think [UNLV] is a great team, but with different styles and playing game to game, anybody can have problems."
The NCAA appearance will be the 13th straight for Georgetown. The Hoyas will need two victories to extend their 20-plus-wins streak to 14.