NEW YORK Syracuse-Georgetown. Before a raucous crowd at Madison Square Garden. With a berth in the final Big East Conference Tournament championship game at stake.
Does it get any better than this?
Its what everybody wanted to see, SU senior James Southerland said. Ive got goose bumps just thinking about it.
The Orange and Hoyas will do battle for the 13th time in the Big East tournament, with Georgetown holding a tenuous 7-6 edge. But this one figures to be a little more special than the previous ones.
Knowing its probably the last one here makes it so important, SU senior Brandon Triche said. Theyve beaten us twice, so its our chance to get even. On this stage, with so much at stake, I couldnt think of a better team to get us motivated.
The teams have actually played just four times in the semifinals, with SU holding a 3-1 advantage. The last time was in 2006, a 58-57 Orange victory, en route to the championship.
SU coach Jim Boeheim said the fact that this could be his clubs final Big East appearance makes it significant.
No matter where or when, it generates a lot of interest, Boeheim said. This season, it has more meaning for us because they handled us pretty easily both times.
Southerland, a New York City native, said he grew up watching the two teams battle at MSG.
It was always exciting, and so many games came right down to the wire, he said. One of the reasons I decided to come to Syracuse was the opportunity to play Georgetown.
SU sophomore Michael Carter-Williams, who has been part of the rivalry for just two seasons, said playing Georgetown makes it easier for the Orange to play their third game in three days.
Theres no reason for anybody to be tired, or lacking motivation, Carter-Williams said. Certain teams get your attention. Georgetown is one of them for us.
When he was sitting out a six-game suspension earlier this season, Southerland wondered whether hed ever get an opportunity to play on one of college basketballs biggest stages again.
Given a second chance, the SU senior forward has taken Madison Square Garden by storm the past few days with a 3-point barrage.
Southerland has gone 12-for-15 from behind the arc against Seton Hall and Pittsburgh, scoring 20 points in both wins. He made six threes in each game, and his 6-for-6 performance Thursday set a Big East tournament record for 3-pointers without a miss.
Im not really thinking about anything but getting a good look, and a good release, he said. I wasnt aware I was 6-for-6, but I knew I was hitting pretty much everything.
Southerlands teammates see how focused and determined he is since returning from the suspension over eligibility issues. And they see his eyes light up every time he pulls up for a shot.
Hes just on fire. Theres no other way to describe it, point guard Michael Carter-Williams said. When hes shooting like that, you figure hes not going to miss.
ODDS AND ENDS
The 12 3-pointers for SU against Pittsburgh were the most allowed by the Panthers this season. And Southerlands six threes were the most ever allowed by Pitt in the tournament. ... .SU advanced to the semifinals for the 22nd time in 34 Big East seasons. The Orange has won five titles. Georgetown made the semifinals for the 21st time, and has won seven times. ... .The Hoyas are now 15-1 as the No. 1 seed in the tournament. The only loss was in the 2010 final to West Virginia.