Jessie Sapp's step-back three-pointer with 6 seconds remaining gave Georgetown (16-2, 6-1) its final lead of the night, and Patrick Ewing Jr. swatted away Da'Sean Butler's game-winning layup attempt as the horn sounded to preserve the Hoya victory. Butler, West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins, and a decisive majority of the 14,048 fans inside the Coliseum felt Ewing Jr. got away with a goaltend on the play. The only opinion that mattered, though, was the collective thoughts of officials Ed Hightower, Ed Corbett, and Pat Driscoll.
"I thought it was," said Butler, who finished with 12 points on the night. "I turned around, and (Hightower) said nothing then ran off the court."
"I feel that the effort that Patrick (Ewing Jr.) made was tremendous," said Georgetown head coach John Thompson III. "To put himself in a position to get that block was unbelievable."
As was Sapp's shot to give the Hoyas their first lead since the 7:00 mark. For the second consecutive game, the Mountaineers were forced to come up with a game-winning play in the huddle. Butler's jumper with 5 seconds remaining lifted WVU to a 66-64 victory over Marshall on Wednesday night. This time, the play had Butler attacking from the corner after point guard Darris Nichols opted to give his teammate a shot at winning the game for the second time in less than a week.
"It seemed like six seconds went by really fast," Nichols explained. "I caught the ball and was trying to get off the ball screen at the top. I saw Da'Sean in the corner, so I just passed it to him. He had an angle to get it to the basket. Goaltend, block, whatever. I didn't see the play."
"I got to the rim, to the top of the rim and it just stopped. He smacked the ball right when it was coming down."
While the final play is what will ultimately be debated tirelessly by Mountaineer fans for some time, the truth is that their team had plenty of chances to put the game away at various points in the second half. West Virginia built a lead as large as 10 points, that coming with less than 17 minutes to play in the game on a made three-pointer by junior guard Alex Ruoff.
Not one to panic, Georgetown got back into the game by patiently running Thompson's Princeton-style offense, getting contributions up and down the lineup from Sapp to senior center Roy Hibbert, who finished with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Hoyas scored from inside, outside, and of course on a handful of their patented backcuts to trim West Virginia's lead down before ultimately regaining an advantage at the 7:00 mark.
For the second straight game, the Mountaineers did their part from the foul line to help the opposition's comeback. West Virginia followed up an 11-29 performance on Wednesday night with an equally vexing 12-23 effort against the Hoyas.
"We're a good enough shooting team that we shouldn't be shooting that poorly from the free throw line," Ruoff said. "It's only going to continue to bite us in the butt if we don't fix it. Guys need to get in the gym and work on it."
"That's the thing that's been haunting us," Nichols added. "That's a thing we've addressed. We've just got to get that out of our head."
The teams battled back and forth in the first half, with Georgetown never leading by more than five and the Mountaineers getting contributions on both ends of the court from an unlikely source. Senior center Jamie Smalligan, who played just two minutes against Marshall, scored his first points since a Jan. 13 win over Syracuse on a three-point basket with 16:42 to play in the opening 20 minutes. Additionally, it was Smalligan's first made trifecta since a December 15 win over University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Smalligan was also holding his own on the defensive end against the 7-2 Hibbert, a likely first-round choice in the upcoming NBA Draft.
"Jamie has gotten better with his approach, guarind in the post, setting screens," said Huggins. "I thought this was Jamie's best performance."
West Virginia looked to have taken the lead at the halftime horn, but Smalligan's three-pointer at the gun was waved off after further review from the officiating crew, leaving the Hoyas with a 25-24 advantage heading into the locker room.
Though the shot was waved off, Smalligan's confidence was not. The big man opened the second half by calmly sinking an open trey from the top of the key, which sparked a 13-2 West Virginia run to open the final 20 minutes of regulation.
For the final 15 minutes, the Hoyas chipped away at the Mountaineer lead, ultimately leaving the sold out Coliseum crowd first stunned, and then angry following the events which transpired down the stretch.
"Pretty much, every Big East game comes down to key possessions down the stretch," Nichols said. "You look back on it, and there are things you look at that could have gone better."
"Road wins have been few and far between as you look across the conference, so to come down here and in this environment and play against a terrific team, a well-coached team, that doesn't lose too many times here, is a big win," Thompson said.
"It was a terrific win against a very good team."
A very good team which came up just a bit short against one of the nation's best.