Mourning, Hoyas come up just short of Syracuse

March 16, 1992|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- By Dave Johnson's standards, with just 10 points going into the final minute, the Big East tournament championship game was amounting to a quiet afternoon. But with the score tied at 54 and Syracuse plotting its final shot, the team's lone senior longed for the ball.

"Coach [Jim Boeheim] said go out and try to create," Johnson said. "I wanted it. It was my last Big East game, and there's a lot of prestige in winning this tournament."

Johnson got the shot, and Syracuse got the title. His 10-foot jumper over Georgetown center Alonzo Mourning with 3.8 seconds left hit all net and gave Syracuse the lead. And, after Georgetown's Robert Churchwell missed a desperation three-point try at the buzzer, the Orangemen had a 56-54 victory and their first Big East tournament championship since 1988.

The win also capped a satisfying season for Syracuse (21-9). The Orangemen, who lost Derrick Coleman and Billy Owens -- both taken in the first round of the NBA draft -- over the past two years, were picked to finish sixth in the league in a preseason poll. Syracuse was the No. 5 seed entering the tournament but knocked off the second-seeded Hoyas (21-9) a day after a 70-66 win over top-seeded Seton Hall.

"I think it's hard when you're supposed to win it," said Boeheim, whose team was seeded first in the tournament the past two years. "When you're not supposed to win, there's no pressure."

But Boeheim, who had not beaten Georgetown in four previous tournament championship games, must have been feeling some pressure late in the game. The Hoyas came from 11 points down with 8:38 left to tie at 54 on an NBA-distance three-pointer by guard Joey Brown from the top of the key with 24 seconds remaining. Syracuse called timeout with 15.3 seconds left after crossing midcourt, and Boeheim set up the final play.

"We wanted to get the ball to Dave and let him spin and try that move," Boeheim said.

Johnson, 6 feet 7, was able to spin free of Georgetown's Lamont Morgan right into Mourning. Johnson's shot barely cleared the 6-10 Georgetown center's right fingertips.

"I wanted to drive all the way, but then I saw Alonzo come up," Johnson said. "I just stopped, pulled up and shot."

And scored, but the Hoyas had one more chance to tie or win. After getting the ball to halfcourt and calling timeout, Ronnie Thompson inbounded the ball with three seconds left and looked to Mourning (23 points). With Johnson in front of Mourning and Conrad McRae behind him, the pass went to Churchwell instead. The sophomore forward, who scored 12 of his 16 in the second half, was short from the left corner as he rushed the three-point attempt from about 21 feet.

"Three seconds is a lot of time, but he's just a sophomore, so he'll learn," Georgetown coach John Thompson said of Churchwell. "I thought the kids played extremely hard. We didn't play well, but we still had an opportunity to win."

With a team that had two sophomores and three freshmen in key roles, Thompson said he was pleased with how well the Hoyas reacted in the tournament.

"We got as much out of this tournament as we could possibly get going into the NCAAs," Thompson said. "This was meaningful because a lot of these kids got experience."

And, despite losing, Mourning, who scored a tournament-record 72 in three games, was the tournament's most valuable player -- the second player from a losing team to win the honor (Syracuse's Pearl Washington, in 1986, was the other).

But Mourning was pretty much contained in the second half. In Saturday's semifinal win over St. John's, Mourning hit 15 of 20 free throws in the second half. Against a zone that had at least two men near him almost all the time, Mourning had two free TTC throws in the second half -- an indication he was not getting the ball down low.

"We looked to get the ball into [Mourning], but he's got to be open," Thompson said. "We just couldn't get into any flow defensively or offensively. Syracuse did a good job on its traps, and we didn't respond well to that."

Syracuse enters the NCAA tournament this week with momentum. But whatever happens there, Johnson, who has been through two unsuccessful trips to the Big East final as well as NCAA investigations into the Syracuse program, said he has a sense of fulfillment.

"When you go through a lot of years of adversity, it feels like you against the world," Johnson said. "Then you just dig down harder. And, at the end, we got results."

NOTES: Johnson was named to the all-tournament team, which included teammate Lawrence Moten, Malik Sealy (St. John's), Terry Dehere (Seton Hall) and Jerome Scott (Miami). . . . Mourning was 38 of 52 from the line in three games, both tournament records. . . . The nine tournament games were decided by a total of 55 points. . . . Georgetown is 6-2 in title games, with the losses coming in the past two years.

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