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For Georgetown, Syracuse, it's goodbye for now

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Sports,College,Craig Stouffer,Georgetown University

Hoyas, Orange playing last game as Big East rivals

The game isn't a winner-takes-all affair. But that doesn't mean there's not a lot at stake.

In their final regular-season meeting as Big East rivals, Georgetown and Syracuse aren't playing for a title. Only the Hoyas (23-5, 13-4 Big East) can lay claim to the regular-season championship with a victory, and they will drop no further than third with a loss. The Orange (23-7, 11-6) have their own immediate goals to satisfy; a win coupled with a Notre Dame loss would give them the No. 4 seed in next week's Big East tournament.

But since 1979, those goals have been intertwined with the thrill that the highest and lowest moments for each team might come at the other's expense. That will be no longer the case next year, with Syracuse departing for the ACC and Georgetown breaking away with the Catholic 7.

Up next
No. 17 Syracuse at No. 5 Georgetown
When » Saturday, noon
Where » Verizon Center
TV » ESPN

"Both programs have meant a lot to each other, and it's going to be different now," Hoyas coach John Thompson III said. "It's different when you're playing a team two, sometimes three times a year, different when you're playing for a chance to win the regular-season championship. That dynamic is going to be much different than when you're just playing a home-and-home series with someone from another conference even though we do have history."

The storied rivalry's climax has dominated the college basketball season. Otto Porter Jr. scored a career-best 33 points in a 57-46 win on Feb. 23, though Thompson refused to declare Carrier Dome closed as his father did with Manley Field House. That didn't make the victory -- or last week's double-overtime win at Connecticut -- any less sweet for former players at home and abroad who have watched with particular nostalgia.

"I guess the biggest thing for us is we just want to go out on top once the historic matchups are going to end," said former guard Jonathan Wallace from Belgium, where he plays for Belfius Mons-Hainaut. He remembers Gerry McNamara's stunning performance for Syracuse in the 2006 Big East tournament as much as he does beating the Orange on Senior Day two weeks earlier.

Jason Clark, who last year led the Hoyas to their first NCAA win since 2008, watched ESPN's reruns of his own Big East tournament victory in 2010 this week. At home in Washington to rehab from a right Achilles injury, he has watched his former teammates closely. He saw their 11-game winning streak snapped at Villanova on Wednesday and will be on hand for Saturday's finale.

"I think that loss is a good loss for them," Clark said. "If they were going to lose at any time, it needed to be last night because everybody is a lot hungrier after a loss, and that makes you play harder."

There's no good loss for Thompson. But it makes the game a little bigger now that there's something more than pride on the line.

"In many ways it's fitting," Thompson said. "At least from where we stand, when we just look at the two programs and we look at what we've meant to each other and what it's meant to the conference, you come down to this last game here, and it's a very important game. That's how they all have been. This one is no different."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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