Porter puts himself in elite company
He carries Hoyas past Syracuse with a performance worthy of postseason notice
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- He's impossible to hate. That's the thing about Otto Porter. The latest, and perhaps last, would-be villain in the Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry is unfailingly polite and, from an Orange fan perspective, frustratingly likeable.
He is not of the Hoya Paranoia generation, all sneer and anger. His big reaction after dropping 33 points to lead Georgetown to a 57-46 win in what might be the final Carrier Dome installment of this decades-long war? A fist pump to the small pocket of Georgetown fans and a smile.
He's not a prima donna or diva who celebrates a free throw as if he's sunk a halfcourt buzzer-beater in the national title game. Asked if he should be considered in the national player of the year conversation, Porter hemmed and hawed forever, clearly wishing he'd been asked his stance on something far less controversial like, say, gun control.
He finally stumbled out an, "I don't know," as Georgetown sports information director Mex Carey rushed to his rescue with a "We'll let you guys decide that."
OK, we will.
Otto Porter should be in the national player of the year conversation. Right now.
Namely, he convinced 35,012 people who desperately wanted to despise him to instead shuffle quietly out the doors with a deferential tip of the cap.
Syracuse fans may hate Michael Graham because of the punch he threw in the Big East Tournament final in 1984, but they respect Porter for his hoop haymakers.
"This,'' one fan sitting in front of me said after he and everyone else audibly groaned, head in hands, after Porter swished a second-half 3-pointer, "is just unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it.''
No sir, you haven't. Quite literally.
No Hoya player in the history of this rivalry -- not Patrick Ewing nor Alonzo Mourning nor Allen Iverson nor Jeff Green -- has scored as many as Porter, whose previous career-high was 22.
What takes this from merely a Big East player of the year résumé-builder (and frankly, they already should have O-t-t etched on that trophy) to the national level is the circumstances:
• In front of an NCAA-record crowd that included people sitting in the equivalent of the opposite end zone of the Carrier Dome.
• In a game filled with nostalgia, angst and anger because it is the last for the rivalry here in at the Dome for the foreseeable future and certainly in the Big East.
• In a place where Syracuse had won an NCAA-leading 38 consecutive games.
• When nobody else on his team could buy a bucket (Porter was 12-of-19, the rest of the Hoyas 7-of-35).
• And maybe most critically, in a game with the top of the Big East standings on the line in late February. The win, coupled with Marquette's loss to Villanova, put the Hoyas in first alone.
And let's be clear. He is not a one-game flash in the pan. He averages 15.9 points and could average plenty more if he were selfish. Except he's not. His game is easy, slipping into the natural flow of things, never forced.
"You all saw the show I just saw,'' GU coach John Thompson III said. "To play that way against that opponent, that's what special players do. He's a special player.''
So special that the pregame theme of this game -- the beginning of the end of the rivalry -- got lost in the Porter detritus. Jim Boeheim said he hopes it's not the end, intimating that the Orange and Hoyas might dance again even after Syracuse jumps to the ACC.
The news, the very good news, sort of just sailed by because all anyone wanted to talk about was Porter.
"You're all waiting for me to make a Manley Field House statement,'' Thompson said, referring to his father's epic first shot fired in 1980 about officially closing the old gym after ending a 57-game Orange streak there. "You're not going to get it. It feels good to win here.''
They all feel good for Thompson about now. He promised back in October that his Hoyas could eventually be something special. No one paid him very much mind then. Georgetown was picked to finish fifth in the Big East, which seemed about right. And then they scored only 37 in a win against Tennessee, barely skated by Towson and lost to South Florida, and it seemed perhaps overstated.
Except since then, Georgetown hasn't lost. The Hoyas now have a nine-game win streak at a time of year when getting hot matters most. Along the way, they've beaten Notre Dame, Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati and now Syracuse. Or, in other words, the better part of the top half of the league.
They have relied on a simple, uncomplicated combination to get them there -- one part Porter, two parts defense. It is almost fitting that Georgetown beat Syracuse on the back of its defense in its last toe-to-toe in Central New York. That's the foundation that the program was built on by the elder Thompson.
This team doesn't have the same sinister approach, but it is every bit as effective. The 46 points scored by Syracuse are the second-fewest ever scored by an Orange team at the Dome.
The Cuse can take solace in the fact that they are not alone. In league play, only Pittsburgh has managed to score more than 70 points against the Hoyas; nine teams haven't eclipsed 60.
Giving Syracuse a dose of its own zone medicine, Georgetown forced the Orange away from the basket and into long-range 3-pointers. That didn't go too well -- SU was 4-of-20 from beyond the arc.
When and if the Orange did get inside, Moses Ayegba made sure they didn't stay long. The bench player had 10 rebounds but more was a presence under the basket, limiting Syracuse's drives.
"They're a very good defensive team,'' Boeheim said. "I don't think we did a very good job attacking their zone, and when we got opportunities we didn't finish them.''
Really the only guy on the floor who did finish was Porter, and he made up for everyone else's misses. Boeheim was asked if he could put Porter's game into any sort of historical context, rate it perhaps among the league's best.
While he was effusive in his praise of Porter, he wasn't biting on the ranking job.
"He'd be in a pretty big group,'' he said. "Of like 10 or 15.''
For now, we'll go with a slightly smaller pool -- 2013 national player of the year candidates.
Put Otto Porter on the list.