Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/23/2007 11:19:00 PM
Once Again, Hoyas' Savior is Green
DaJuan Summers (right) chased down Jeff Green (left) after the buzzer sounded.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Jeff Green squeezed between two defenders and Georgetown squeezed out a win.
Michael Heiman/Getty Images
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- How Jeff Green wanted to celebrate his shining moment, we'll never know. Green isn't a particularly flamboyant player, so perhaps he didn't have any jersey-popping or arm-waving planned after he banked in the game-winning shot with 2.5 seconds left to lift Georgetown over Vanderbilt 66-65, and into the Elite Eight. Thanks to freshman teammate DaJuan Summers, though, Green's party consisted of being enveloped in a suffocating bear-hug near halfcourt.
"I just said, 'Gimme a hug, man, just hug me, because that was amazing'," Summers explained later, neglecting to consider that he gave Green no other option but to hug. "Jeff's made big shots before, like against Notre Dame in the Big East tournament, but this was different. It was on a whole different stage."
In a game that the second-seeded Hoyas nearly bumbled away -- falling behind by 13 points late in the first half, erasing that deficit in the second, then watching their star center, Roy Hibbert, foul out with 3:58 left, and giving Vandy the lead back with under 20 seconds left -- they were rescued by the player who had carried them through many of the 29 wins that had preceded this one. And even then, Green, who would finish with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, nearly coughed up the ball -- and Georgetown's season with it -- on the final possession. The play had him receiving the the rock near the right elbow, with instructions to look for Patrick Ewing Jr. on a backdoor cut, but that option wasn't available.
That would have been the storybook East Coast ending to this Friday night in Jersey, with one Ewing hitting the game-winner while another Ewing (his pops, Patrick, the ex-Knicks star who received an ovation when he appeared on the scoreboard in the first half) looked on from behind the bench. This game, however, was more stormy than scripted, and Green had to improvise against a double-team with the clock running down. He lost the ball at first as he spun, then recovered, calling it a "fumble play I had to make," and somehow found a way to kiss it off the glass and in. He appeared to have traveled on the replay, but at that crucial juncture, the refs' whistles were buried. "I got lucky," Green said of the shot, "and it went in."
"We knew what was coming," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. "It looked like we had him covered, and I'm certainly not going to take away from the dignity of the game [by questioning the refs]. I haven't seen the replay, and I don't care to. He made a great shot."
After Commodores guard Alex Gordon had his prayer from just inside halfcourt blocked at the buzzer, Hibbert came running off the bench to join the mob scene. The gentle giant, whose bonehead foul on Derrick Byars' three-point attempt with 3:58 left both disqualified him and resulted in a 3-point Vandy lead, admitted that it hurt to watch the final four minutes from the pine. "But," said Hibbert, "I had faith they would pull it out in crunch time."
Hoyas guard Jessie Sapp, who was sitting next to the hug-happy Summers in the corner of the locker room, felt that crunch time was not the appropriate description for Green's situation.
"That's Jeff Green time," said Sapp. "And Jeff Green does what Jeff Green does. If he didn't do it again today, we're not moving on."
What Green has done, just in the past three weeks, is hit a game-winning jumper to beat Notre Dame in the Big East tourney semifinals; devastate Boston College with his late work on the offensive glass -- plays he made when his normal moves weren't working -- in the second round of the NCAA tournament; and Friday, push the Hoyas to within one game of the Final Four. In what is likely his last year in college before entering the NBA draft, the junior forward is relishing every opportunity to take the big shot.
"I like to have the ball in my hands in the [close] games, because I have confidence in myself that I can make plays," Green said in Georgetown's postgame press conference, with coach John Thompson III sitting at his side. "I'm willing to do whatever it takes to try to win the game, If that's having the ball in my hands or making another play to get my teammate open. Hopefully I'm one of those top players that can make those plays."
It was then that Thompson felt the need to chime in and confirm the hopes of his star. "His coach," said Thompson, "feels that way."
Good, then. We're all in agreement. The Hoyas are in good hands when Jeff Green Time rolls around, and he does what he does. It's usually something worthy of an embrace.
Vandy's Shooting Star (And It's Not Derrick Byars)
Vandy's Shan Foster and Alex Gordon sign autographs in East Rutherford.
The open practices at Continental Airlines Arena were sparsely attended.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Kevin Stallings stood by himself at halfcourt of Continental Airlines Arena on Thursday during Vanderbilt's practice, picking up basketballs and nonchalantly launching them, from behind his back, at the basket 47 feet away. They kept bricking, mostly wide left off the backboard, until he eventually gave up and called an end to the workout.
"That's coach's party trick, and he usually hits it in three tries, so he's probably sitting outside right now frustrated with himself," junior forward Alan Metcalfe joked while standing in the sixth-seeded Commodores' locker room afterward. "He hates losing at HORSE, so he makes up these random things that no one else can do. He's also figured out how to double-bank a shot -- first of the backboard, then the rim, then the backboard again and in -- and he's pretty good at it."
For most of the nation, the indelible image of Stallings is that of a man defiantly playing dead-ball keep-away from Joakim Noah in Vandy's upset of the then-No.1 ranked Florida on Feb. 17. But many of the Commodores -- among them some of the most dangerous long-distance shooters left in the NCAA tournament -- associate their head coach with those trick shots. Shan Foster, the 6-foot-6 junior guard who once chose Vandy over Kansas, Notre Dame, LSU and Illinois, still remembers what Stallings did when he visited Foster's hometown of Kenner, La.
"He came to my high school when I was getting recruited, and we were playing HORSE," Foster said. "He made that shot three times in a row to beat me, So I've seen it before."
Asked if Stallings' marksmanship, which was honed as a player on Purdue's 1980 Final Four team, swayed his decision, Foster said, somewhat jokingly, "I thought, if a coach can make a shot from half-court behind his back, I needed to be on his team."
Considering that Foster is the 'Dores' second-leading scorer, at 15.6 points per game, and that he's averaging 19.0 during the run to the Sweet 16, Stallings' circus move was a rather valuable recruiting tool.
Stallings' 17-year-old son, Jacob, was standing in the corner of the Vandy locker room on Thursday, watching his dad's press conference on a wall-mounted TV. Jacob, a prep gunner at Brentwood Academy in Nashville who was launching his share of 3-pointers during the practice, said that he doesn't play much HORSE against his pops -- only about 20 times, ever -- "because he always beats me, and then makes fun of me afterwards."
Metcalfe, the big Englishman who was still standing nearby, glanced up at the TV and decided to let Jacob know that, "I dropped out of that Facebook group you made for your dad."
"That wasn't my group," Jacob said. "I don't care."
The Facebook group Metcalfe was referencing? "Kevin Stallings: Sexiest coach in the NCAA," which has more than 250 members, mostly from Jacob's high school.
"I didn't really feel like my relationship with coach was on that kind of level," Metcalf said, laughing.
Understandable. Stallings may be phenomenal at HORSE, and leading a team that has more than a halfcourt-around-the-back-shot's chance of knocking Georgetown out of the dance tomorrow. But sexy?
• 6-11 Vandy center Ted Skuchas is the star of a black-and-white, YouTube commercial spoof that popped up on Deadspin last week. It's an old-timey advertisement for professional "Tall Guys," who can help with tasks like changing lightbulbs, rescuing frisbees, etc. (defending Roy Hibbert is not listed as one of the available services).
I asked Skuchas for an explanation while he was standing outside the Vandy locker room. "I did that in high school [at Germantown Academy in Philadelphia]," he said. "That was the idea of one of my friends who's now out in L.A., working in the movie industry. He actually sent me that link a long time ago, but after it was up on Deadspin this last time, I came into practice on Monday and one of my coaches asked, 'What was that thing?'"