EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)—John Thompson III and Patrick Ewing Jr. could only hope, the same way their dads did a generation ago.
On this night, it was different. A North Carolina freshman missed.
Twenty-five years later, Georgetown had gotten even.
In an NCAA tournament full of incredible rallies, it was the Hoyas’ turn. They rallied from 11 down in the second half, then ripped off 14 straight points in overtime to stun the top-seeded Tar Heels 96-84 in the East Regional final Sunday.
The Hoyas are headed back to the Final Four for the first time since 1985, taking on Ohio State next Saturday in Atlanta.
“The comparisons to Pop’s teams, much like the talk about Big Pat, Little Pat, Big John, Little John, you guys can do that,” Little John said.
“For us to figure out how to hold on and pull away with a win, against that team is special.”
Especially because of what happened to them on March 29, 1982, when John Thompson Jr. was their coach and Patrick Ewing was the franchise. Facing those same Tar Heels, for goodness sakes, they were denied the national championship when a North Carolina freshman named Michael Jordan made the go-ahead jumper.
These Hoyas (30-6) won with Thompson calling the backdoor plays he learned at Princeton and young Ewing making key contributions.
They were helped by an amazing collapse from Carolina (31-7), which made only one of 23 field goal attempts, including its first 12 in overtime, over a 15-minute span after seemingly having the game in hand.
“This is an extremely disappointing time for our team. It’s not the way you want your season to end,” Tar Heels coach Roy Williams said. “Congratulations to Georgetown and Young John. Young John is like family to me.”
It’s a family like none other in college basketball, the first father-son duo to coach teams into the Final Four, much less at the same school.
When it was over, Thompson shook hands with Williams and everyone else on the North Carolina side, never showing a smile. Tough game, good game, he told them.
Then it was time to walk across the court—to the biggest bear hug he could imagine.
“You’ve been complaining about the bus being rickety, but the ride home is going to be good tonight,” his dad told him.
“Isn’t it?” the son said.
After Georgetown’s Jonathan Wallace hit a 3 that tied it at 81 with 31 seconds left in regulation, the Tar Heels had a chance to win it, but freshman Wayne Ellington missed an open jumper from the wing right before the buzzer and Ewing grabbed the rebound, prompting his famous father to high-five everyone near him in the stands.
There would be no game-winning shot for the Tar Heels a la 1982, when the Jordan legend was born with a 17-foot jumper with 17 seconds left, lifting Carolina over Georgetown 63-62.
The Hoyas waited a long time to avenge that defeat, and when they did, it unleashed a celebration a quarter of a century in the making.
Every Georgetown player crossed the court to hug the elder Thompson, who did the national radio broadcast.
Ewing Sr. pulled out his cell phone. He was trying to call Jordan, his old nemesis, to rub it in, he said, “but he wasn’t accepting my calls.”
“You want the best for your kids. I’m proud of both John and my son,” Ewing said. “I’m happy, I’m very proud. I think Georgetown is back.”
While the Hoyas celebrated, Williams could only sit in disbelief. In overtime, it was over in a hurry.
Wallace scored inside, freshman DaJuan Summers dunked a minute later, and Jeff Green added a layup to make it 87-81. With Carolina rushing bad shots, Georgetown jammed it inside and got fouled—Summers made four free throws and Jessie Sapp added a pair.
Summers’ dunk extended the lead to 95-81 before Ty Lawson broke the streak with a meaningless 3 in the closing seconds and Sapp finished it off with one last free throw.
“We just tried to get an early start on it,” Green said. “If we let them get an early start, they would have had the momentum coming in. We got lucky.”
The Tar Heels, the 2005 champions, had won seven straight regional finals and were trying to reach their 17th Final Four, which would’ve tied UCLA’s record.
After overcoming a 16-point deficit in the second half to beat Southern California on Friday night, they seemed to be on their way this time, too, leading 69-58 with 12:22 to go and still up 75-65 with 6:02 to play.
That’s when Georgetown took over. A foul shot by Green, a layup by Sapp, another layup by Green and a dunk by 7-foot-2 Roy Hibbert, and it was 75-72— and a game again.
“I think the momentum, it’s sort of fleeting. You don’t know when it’s going, where it’s going, when it’s going to come back,” Williams said.
The Hoyas did an even better job on defense, with an active zone that flummoxed Carolina, and once it went to overtime, it was a bad omen for the Tar Heels. They have now lost seven straight games in overtime since 2000.
Green led Georgetown with 22 points and Summers added 20.
Tyler Hansbrough had 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Tar Heels.
“They have some tough players, and down the stretch they hit shots and we didn’t,” Hansbrough said through red, swollen eyes.
This was the fifth time Carolina and Georgetown had played since that epic game at the New Orleans Superdome.
A day earlier, the Georgetown and North Carolina players tried to brush aside any relevance of the rematch. To Heel with history, they seemed to say, we weren’t even born then.
Yet the impact of that game left a visible imprint on every one of them. Both teams came out wearing warmups with the logo of Jordan in mid-flight.
Hansbrough seemed almost possessed, looking much more like the beast his teammates call “Psycho T” for his practice mania than the big guy who’s partial to pedicures. It probably helped that he had shucked his plastic mask. The pesky thing protected his broken nose, but clearly bothered him.
Held to a career-low five points in the 74-64 win over USC, he exceeded that total in the first 2 1/2 minutes of this game.
Giving away five inches to Hibbert, Hansbrough still banged away. He even elbowed his own guy during a scramble under the basket. No one on his side minded.
By the end, though, he couldn’t save Carolina.
“I mean, shots just weren’t falling,” Hansbrough said. “You have times where you get a little bump and it throws you off. Just didn’t go in the hole late in the game.”