Item: During this annual stretch of December with a week between games coinciding with final exams, it provides plenty of days leading up to the next test for this year’s steadily emerging 6-3 team. Saturday’s now non-conference Dome meeting against the Hoyas (12:00 p.m. ET / ESPN) will have the backdrop of not only all the college hoops drama these two programs provided over past Big East glory days, but the latest installment of the rivalry that defined the transition of the program into the Dome era, will also have a pronounced celebration of all-time Syracuse legend Pearl Washington some eight months after he died of brain cancer at age 52.
While the phrase “Syracuse-Georgetown in the Dome” may no longer have the cache of “Syracuse-Duke in the Dome…in front of 35,000 plus,” at least for this weekend, and hopefully on a regularly scheduled basis for the foreseeable future, there will be plenty of remembrances in and around the Dome about the great SU-Georgetown games of the past, and the one player who’s recruitment in 1983 set in motion the subsequent glory years that follow to this day.
In front of what likely will be a nice-sized and vocal crowd on “Pearl Washington Day,” the visual honors of Pearl’s mark on the program will be abundant. A number “31” decal will be affixed to the court on the sideline at the approximate distance of Washington’s half court heave and swish basket to stun Boston College in Feb. 1984, and there will be handouts of mementos, video tributes, a halftime ceremony, and backcourt activities including a chance to win the coveted orange, script “Pearl” warm up shirts.
While Pearl’s freshman season saw the Orangemen lose twice to the Hoyas in the regular season by 13 and 17 points, in the 1984 Big East championship game at the Garden played a week after the latter loss, Pearl singlehandedly lit up the vaunted Georgetown defense to put SU up four late, before the infamous Andre Hawkins-Michael Graham tussle in which an apparent punch was thrown by Graham, who was, then was not, ejected by referee and Syracuse native Dick “Froggy” Paparo.
After the mêlée and Georgetown forcing overtime, the Hoyas pulled away to win by 11 and Jim Boeheim went on the first of his infamous MSG rants, in this case declaring “the best team” did not win.
A year later on a frosty cold January evening for a Big Monday game against the No. 1 ranked Hoyas, it was Pearl’s 15 foot jumper with under 0:08 to play that led to a massive court-storming among the 32,000 delirious Dome patrons celebrating an eventual 65-63 win.
There was one final post season win over Georgetown in the Pearl era that, believe it or not, has been slightly overshadowed. Pearl’s 21 points led the Orange to a tense 75-73 OT win over the Hoyas in the 1986 Big East semifinals, while the next night Washington’s attempt at the winning basket on a layup in the title game was blocked by St. John’s Walter Berry at the buzzer.
A year after the teams met in D.C. in Mike Hopkins debut as the interim head coach and a biting 79-72 defeat,, this time around there will rightfully be a Boeheim and a Thompson on the sideline Saturday, the Orange and Hoyas Round 75, and honoring the great Pearl Washington.