Senior Demetris Nichols and Andy Rautins each hit a pair 3-pointers to key a 14-0 second-half spurt that took just 3:42, and Syracuse beat No. 9 Georgetown 72-58 Monday night.
It was the fifth straight victory and sixth in seven games for Syracuse (21-8, 10-5 Big East), and it sent many in the raucous Carrier Dome crowd of 26,287 rushing onto the court in jubilation.
It also was only the Orange's second triumph in six games against ranked teams, but this one halted an 11-game winning streak by the Big East's first-place team, and that spoke volumes.
"Two weeks ago, we didn't deserve to be in (the NCAA tournament)," Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said after his 747th career victory, 13th all-time in Division I and one more than Phog Allen. "I'm proud of my kids. This game was the culmination. We knew five games ago we had to win and play well. The seniors deserve a lot of credit. This was our best game."
Georgetown (22-6, 12-3 Big East) had won 11 straight conference games for the first time in school history and had defeated Pittsburgh 61-53 Saturday to avenge a road loss to the Panthers in January and take possession of first place in the Big East.
But the Hoyas fizzled against Syracuse's 2-3 zone. They committed 19 turnovers that Syracuse converted into 25 points, and scored just six points off the Orange's 13 turnovers.
Jeff Green, Georgetown's leading scorer, finished with nine points on 3-of-13 shooting, the first time he failed to crack double figures in 10 games. And 7-foot-3 center Roy Hibbert, who has had little success against Syracuse, continued that trend with just six points and two rebounds in 20 minutes. Starters Jessie Sapp, Jon Wallace and DaJuan Summers scored a combined 25 points on 4-for-29 shooting, with 15 coming from the free-throw line.
"We just weren't converting on offense, and that was a big key," said Green, who had 10 rebounds. "We let them go on their runs and we didn't go on ours."
Georgetown, first in the Big East and fifth nationally in scoring defense at 56.1 points per game, got a taste of its own medicine. The Hoyas shot 29.8 percent for the game, just 20 percent in the decisive second half against the Syracuse zone.
"We picked the wrong night to have maybe our worst day of the year," Georgetown coach John Thompson III said. "They just beat us."
Nichols, the Big East's leading scorer, was 2-for-8 shooting in the first half, then found his range midway through the second and finished with 22 points in his final home game. Eric Devendorf had 11 points and a career-high 11 assists, Rautins had 13 points, and Paul Harris had 11.
The key spurt began after Patrick Ewing's three-point play and two free throws by Sapp put Georgetown up 44-43 with 11:58 left.
Rautins, coming off a career-high 19 points against Providence on Saturday, started it with a 3 from the right wing with 9:08 to go. Nichols then drained a 3 from the right corner after his own steal, and Rautins hit again from left wing to give Syracuse a 56-46 lead with 7:31 left.
Nichols added a dagger when he hit a 3 as the shot-clock buzzer sounded for a 59-46 lead at 6:15, and center Darryl Watkins hit a hook over Hibbert to complete the run at 5:26.
"We knew we were capable of beating them," said Nichols, who finished 6-for-16 from the floor. "We came out with a lot of drive and hunger. Andy started hitting 3s, I started hitting 3s, and that decided the game."
Since going scoreless in 26 minutes at Connecticut on Feb. 5, Rautins has averaged 15 points over the past five games, going 21-for-36 on 3-pointers (56 percent). That has made the Orange a much more dangerous team, and it showed on this night. Syracuse hit eight of its final 13 3-pointers.
"Everybody's starting to play their role," Devendorf said. "Andy and Demetris are sooting the ball, I'm trying to create for others. We're just playing well together as a team."