7:00 PM ET, April 1, 2003
Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
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 Square Garden. 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.
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