Until Rowan's shot, the most memorable projectiles of the tournament had been seen in the Pitt-Georgetwn quarterfinal. With the Panthers trailing 57-56 and holding for the last shot, Demetreus (Me) Gore bulled his way into the lane and regurgitated a modified shotput fling at the basket in a crowd of Hoyas. It did not go in. "Uh, I gotta be nice," said Georgetown's Michael Jackson. "Let's just say that if I put that up, it's a bad shot." Even more improbable than Gore's misbegotten prayer was the post-game comment by Pitt coach Roy Chipman: "We got the shot we wanted."
Pitt had one last try after a missed Georgetown free throw. But as the Panthers' Curtis Aiken dashed over the time line, a roll of toilet paper came flying onto the court. A 10-year-old urchin had run up and flung it, evidently thinking he'd be doing the Panthers a favor. He scurried away into the Garden's nether reaches yelling, "Thank me! Thank me!"
By the time the officials had whistled play dead, only two seconds showed on the clock. Chipman gamely pleaded that more time be restored, but all he got from referee Dick Paparo was a consoling embrace. Pitt's last shot was another impossible heave from Gore, and though the Hoyas' Ronnie Highsmith hacked him, there was no call. The Panther players gave the refs a Please Don't Squeeze the Chipman stare and stalked off, refusing to face the press.
Georgetown's victory earned the Hoyas a spot opposite Syracuse in the semis and set the stage for the skirmish inseparable from any Big East tournament. This one featured Washington and the Hoyas' Reggie Williams in a couple of shoves, some finger-pointing and a few oaths, but no real punches. The Orange's Raf Addison used the incident as a springboard, helping to take the game from a 49-49 tie to a 57-51 lead. Timely foul shooting eventually helped Syracuse win 75-73 in overtime.
St. John's also had to overcome a Raf attack on Saturday: two jumpers sandwiched around a layup and an alley-oop feed to Alexis. That helped stretch the Syracuse lead to 13, its largest. But as the Johnnies chipped away in the second half, Boeheim was forced to spend timeouts.
He used his last one with 1:39 left, so Syracuse's final thrust after Rowan's jumper would be by the Pearl, impromptu. Washington crossed halfcourt and began his usual intrepid slaloming through the lane. First he froze Jackson with a left-right combination fake. Then he darted past 6'11" Marco Baldi, the freshman reserve from Italy, who sank all four of his foul shots down the stretch.
The Pearl had a bead on the basket. But Berry had been plotting Washington's progress from the opposite side of the lane. "I knew he was going left," Berry would say. "He always makes you think he's going right, and then goes left." As Pearl scooped the ball upward, Berry swatted it cleanly to the floor, where it was fumbled as time ran out.
And so it was that last week in Manhattan a guy from the Bronx met the challenge of a guy from Brooklyn to save the day for a school in Queens. "It was the perfect way to end a game as big as this one," Shelton Jones said. "The two best players on the floor, one-on-one. The cream rose."
Ain't that the Truth.