NEW YORK — Six days ago, when Syracuse lost by 22 points at Georgetown, most Orange fans figured this season would conclude with Jim Boeheim’s team failing to reach its potential again.
But, there is still a lot of fight in this group after all.
Needing to right the ship in a hurry with the Big East Conference and NCAA Tournaments coming up, SU has done just that. And they punctuated the quick turnaround with a heart-stopping 58-55 overtime win over top-seeded Georgetown in Friday night’s Big East semifinals.
SU (26-8), the fifth seed, will play second-seed Louisville for its sixth conference title at 8:30 tonight at a sold-out Madison Square Garden. Louisville beat Notre Dame, 69-57, in the other semifinal.
After squandering as much as a 12-point, second-half lead, the Orange went without a field goal over the final 7 minutes, 12 seconds of the second half, saw Georgetown tie the game at 51-51 on two Otto Porter free throws with 7.3 seconds left, and go to overtime after Michael Carter-Williams missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds.
But the Orange, which sometimes didn’t show enough toughness down the stretch against good teams, displayed the kind of grit and fortitude that SU fans haven’t seen in awhile in the five-minute overtime session.
Senior Brandon Triche scored on a strong drive to start overtime and set the tone for SU.
Junior center Baye Moussa Keita — almost a forgotten man for much of the season — then came through big-time with a key follow shot in overtime as part of a clutch 13-point performance.
Junior forward C.J. Fair, who struggled through a woeful 3-for-16 shooting effort, connected for a rim-rattling dunk with 2:02 left to give SU a four-point lead.
The Orange could have put this one away earlier, but it missed four of five free throws in the final 51.8 seconds. But the SU defense, stellar again throughout, denied the Hoyas on three of their final four possessions.
Fair also came up with a huge steal with Georgetown (25-6) looking for the winning 3-pointer. He subsequently missed a pair of foul shots. But with just a few seconds left, Georgetown’s Jabril Trawick could only heave up a three-quarter court shot at the buzzer.
“After they beat us twice, we wanted a chance to get back at them,’’ said Triche, who scored 13 points along with James Southerland. “We read a lot of the trash talk on the internet about how they dominated us, so this one was easy to get motivated for.’’
Boeheim said this was “one of the biggest wins we’ve ever had here. And it was a testimony to our character, our toughness and the fact that we made just enough plays when it counted. We obviously struggled on offense the second half, but all you need to do is score one more point than them and we did that.’’
Southerland, who made four more 3-pointers to tie former SU standout Gerry McNamara for the tournament 3-point record with 16, said, “it would have been easy just to pack it in and hang our heads the way we had been playing before we got here. But these guys have a lot of pride and we didn’t want to end our careers like that.’’
One of the other SU heroes was little-used redshirt freshman guard Trevor Cooney. He contributed 10 points in the first half and picked up the Orange when it started the game struggling on offense.
“Trevor was the best player on the court for 15 minutes,‘’ Boeheim said. “We have faith in him even though he’s been struggling. We know he can make shots, but nobody saw this coming.‘’
After scoring just six points in the opening eight minutes, the Orange outscored the Hoyas 23-9 over the final 14 minutes of the first half.
A Cooney 15-foot baseline jumper started the SU surge, and a Southerland 3-pointer eventually tied the game at 17. That began an eventual 13-0 run, which included two Cooney 3-pointers and a driving lay-up, plus a Carter-Williams steal and dunk.
Georgetown went more than seven minutes without a point, missing nine consecutive shots, before Trawick hit a three with 42.5 seconds remaining.
Keita garnered an offensive rebound with 15.7 seconds left, was fouled, and converted both ends of the 1-and-1 as SU went into intermission with a 29-20 lead.
“Just like the past two days, we got good ball movement and showed good patience on offense the first half,’’ Boeheim said. “Like Pitt, Georgetown is a tremendous defensive team, so we had to work extra hard just to get 29 points. The last time we only got 39 the whole game.’’
Defensively, SU held Big East Player of the year Porter to just 12 points on 4-for-13 shooting. He had scored 33 at Syracuse in an 11-point win on Feb. 23.
“Just being aware of where he was at all times, and making him take tough shots,’’ was Southerland’s explanation of the good defensive effort on the All-American forward.
Mikael Hopkins scored 15 points for Georgetown, hurting the Orange inside. “But we were willing to give him a few to make sure their big guys (Porter, Markel Starks) didn’t hurt us like they did in the other two games.’’
So, SU lives to play another day. A week ago, that would have been just a pipe dream.
“We’re in sync now, and trusting in each other again,’’ Southerland said. “The last couple games we’ve really kept our composure when we needed to most, and just stayed together. That could lead us to a championship.’’