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February 25, 2007

This may come as a shock to many readers, but it seems that Georgetown may have actually won the game. Not just Pitt losing it. You know, the hottest team in the Big East.

The Hoyas are now one game shy of setting a program record for most consecutive wins against Big East opponents. The 1984-85 team also won 11 straight games over conference foes, but that streak included both Big East and NCAA tournament games.

But that wasn’t on their minds. The Hoyas were just happy with the one win. Hibbert said that it felt like a tournament game, because of the atmosphere and the opponent; since the start of the 2001-02 season, no Big East team has won as many conference games as the Panthers (70). Green said that it felt good to beat Pittsburgh, because the Hoyas wanted revenge for the earlier loss. Even Thompson, who is loath to step back and consider the big picture, had to concede that the Hoyas put themselves in a good spot.

“Today was a very good win — don’t get me wrong — against a very good team,” Thompson said. “You can’t be unhappy about the position that we’re in. Even I can’t.”

Before the Aaron Gray injury, the assumption was that this was going to be a rematch of Hibbert and Gray. They do like banging against each other (not as dirty as it reads).

“As soon as he came out on the court, he was like, ‘I missed you, Big Roy,’ and I was like, ‘I missed you, too,’ ” Hibbert said. “It was a battle. I can’t wait to play against him again. But it turned out to be Georgetown versus Pittsburgh, and not Roy Hibbert versus Aaron Gray.”

Pitt had a chance, but it had a lot to do with another star player for Georgetown taking over the game.

After the Hoyas fell behind 44-36 on a 3-pointer by Ronald Ramon with 11:52 left, the message finally sank in. Or perhaps it was then that Green simply grew tired of watching his teammates’ remedial routine. Whatever the case, Green decided that the Hoyas were not going to get swept out of their own building in front of a CBS audience in the league’s regular-season showcase game. And Green decided he was not going to let hobbled Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray (10 points, six rebounds) overshadow what was supposed to be his coronation performance.

So, with the Big East’s top seed, the streak and the league MVP laurels hanging in the balance, Green took over. During the game’s final 11 minutes, the 6-foot-9 forward had eight points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals.

“I just tried to will my team to win,” said Green, who finished with 14 points, five rebounds, three assists.

Green, apparently talked the talk to his team and walked it.

Or, as Hibbert put it: “Jeff said, ‘I’m going to take over.’ He missed a shot, got his own rebound and scored. He’s aggressive, and we follow him.”

Green is a guy a lot of teams in the NBA are very interested in.

Every other Big East team is chasing the Hoyas with a week left in the regular season because Thompson III has a player who also would have excelled on any of his father’s teams. Forward Jeff Green, a 6-foot-9 junior from Hyattsville, Md., is a throw-back player, who seemingly doesn’t do anything exceptionally well and yet does everything for Georgetown.

Going into Saturday’s game, Green didn’t rank among the Big East’s top 15 scorers. He isn’t among the league leaders in rebounds, assists or steals. But when the conference hands out its hardware in a couple of weeks, Green should be the Big East player of the year. There isn’t a more valuable or versatile player in the college basketball’s biggest league.

“Jeff Green is a basketball player and when you start trying to label him, saying he’s a big guy or a small guy, all of a sudden he does something the opposite of what you are saying,” Thompson III said. “He is a basketball player and he is comfortable anywhere on the court.”

Green was all over the court when Georgetown needed him most against the Panthers. The Hoyas trailed by eight points with less than 12 minutes to go, but Green, who was hampered by foul trouble in the first half, started attacking the basket. His baseline jumper over Levon Kendall tied the score at 49, and then he showed his versatility with less than 3½ minutes to go.

Following a timeout, Green dribbled near the top of the key with forward Sam Young defending him. Green dribbled the basketball off his foot and nearly lost it, but then got it back. When it seemed he would challenge Young and drive to the basket, Green delivered a pin-point, back-door pass to Jessie Sapp, who scored an easy layup for a 51-49 lead.

So, the Hoyas have two likely first round picks if they both come out this year.

Told there were at least 15 credentialed pro scouts at the game, Thompson managed a half-smile.

“Hey, Aaron Gray is a heckuva player,” he quipped while referring to Pitt’s 7-foot center.

Translation: “Please don’t put foolish NBA thoughts in my kids’ heads before I’m done preparing them for their next challenge in life.”

Gray is also projected to be a first-round pick, and the scouts indeed also came to see him and Georgetown’s 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert bang inside. But this was Green’s game. He seized it when it mattered, scoring on putbacks, stepping into the passing lanes, finding his teammates for two of the most important layups in the final minutes of a game Georgetown had to have to win the regular-season conference title and stay in the running for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Three things won this game for the Hoyas: (1) defensive tenacity, anchored by the most excitable and active guy in the gym, Patrick Ewing Jr.; (2) offensive execution in the final minutes, the way the Hoyas either milked the clock or refused to settle for a bad shot; and above all, (3) Jeff Green.

His calmness in the clutch, especially on the offensive end, was why a throaty sellout gathering stood in awe at the end. This was a no-flow, body-up, contest-every-shot eyesore for much of 40 minutes. Pitt was threatening to pull away with less than 12 minutes left, leading by eight points.

This was as much about a talented G-town team with a great player not  letting the team quit and leading the team. It does take another team to win the game.

How many of you thought we were going to win yesterday’s game before tipoff? (Not me; my prediction was G’town 78 Pitt 68 but obviously the defenses made my score look bad points-wise.) So let’s not get too upset that we lost the game. Instead, we should be a little more concerned about what this all means going forward.

We’ve had our share of problems in the last 5 games or so. What we need ASAP is a game where we play very solidly for all 40 minutes. We’re going to be playing teams that need to win as much as we do though so we’re not going to be walking down easy street.

We also need to be strong up in New York City. It’s not imperative that we win the Big East Tournament — we’ve done that before and it doesn’t automatically put us past the Sweet Sixteen — but it’s not something the Panthers can just blow off. We can’t play like clowns for the rest of the regular season and in NYC and then expect to flip a switch going into the NCAA Tournament. As commenter Stuart said, “We can’t play bad down the stretch and then ‘turn it on’ in the tournament.”

But once again, don’t get too worked up. This wasn’t a game we could have expected to win anyways. We’re still a Top 25 team and looking at past years, we can see that right now any Top 25 team has a legit shot at the Final Four.

Other things from yesterday:

As much as I hate to complain about refs, yesterday’s game caused me to scream at the TV more than I usually do. It seems like every foul called on Levance Fields was complete crap. To sum up yesterday’s calls, look at this picture (courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).

Levon Kendall being held by Roy Hibbert. I don’t know if this was a shot by Kendall (the PG caption says it was a drive to the basket) but if it was, it wasn’t called — Kendall shot 0 foul shots.

Round of applause to Aaron Gray. He showed some big time guts yesterday buy playing the kind of minutes he did. Forget it that he was slower than ever, he’s committed to the team and wants to leave Pitt knowing he did whatever he could.

Lastly, a little update on a few teams we saw back in December. Auburn upset 25th ranked Alabama yesterday while Florida State has a very good chance of making the field with an at-large bid. Does that brighten up your day at all? Probably not.

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