NEW YORK (AP) -- Craig Esherick always knew his team could win
big games in the postseason. The Georgetown coach just didn't know
if it would be this year.
Having Mike Sweetney makes a lot of things possible.
Sweetney took charge once again and led Georgetown to the NIT
championship game, scoring 32 points as the Hoyas beat Minnesota
88-74 Tuesday night. Georgetown will play St. John's in Thursday
night's title game. The Red Storm beat Texas Tech 64-63.
"Even at the lowest point of the season, I never once thought
that we didn't have a good team," Esherick said. "We knew there
was a light at the end of the tunnel. We were trying to find it."
The Hoyas (19-14) lost three games by a point this season. One
of those losses came in overtime, in which the Hoyas were 1-3. But
now, rather than losing games they had a chance to win, the Hoyas
are winning games they had a chance to lose.
The Gophers appeared to have found a solution for Sweetney after
allowing him to score 17 points in the first half. They held him
scoreless through the early minutes of the second half, while
drawing within a point.
Sweetney finally dunked for a 53-50 lead
with 14:44 to play, sparking a 13-2 run. Sweetney scored six points
during the run, helping Georgetown retake control of the game.
"I know my team," Sweetney said. "My team knew what to do in
a difficult situation to get the ball to me."
The Hoyas turned down a bid to the NIT last season because they
would have had to play on the road and miss classes. Now they'll
play for the title after winning four straight games in the
tournament -- all away from home. The Hoyas (19-14) won at
Tennessee, Providence and North Carolina before coming to Madison
The Hoyas' opponent in the championship game will have to do
something no other team in the NIT has done yet -- find a way to
stop Sweetney, who has been Georgetown's top scorer in 24 games
this season, including all four games in the NIT.
"He's stronger than anyone we've got," Minnesota coach Dan
Monson said. "Except for those five minutes, they really did a
good job of dictating, of getting the ball to Sweetney."
Brandon Bowman had 14 points for Georgetown and Victor Samnick,
who missed a week and a half of practice with an intestinal
infection, added 13.
Rick Rickert led the Gophers (19-13) with 17 points and Ben
Johnson had 15.
Sweetney shot 16-for-18 from the free-throw line, outshooting
all the Gophers, who finished 11-of-18. He punctuated the Hoyas'
night with a two-handed dunk that brought a roar from the crowd and
gave Georgetown a 10-point lead with 2:56 to play.
"We just rode what Mike did in the second half," Esherick
said. "This guy probably played as well of an overall game as he
has all year."
Minnesota chased Georgetown throughout the first half, falling
behind early before tying it at 17. Georgetown regained the lead
immediately and was ahead 47-33 at halftime. Sweetney made 11 of
his 13 first-half free throws, while the Gophers shot just 5-of-8
as a team.
Sweetney came up limping in the first two minutes. He came out
briefly but re-entered the game less than a minute later.