EXCLUSIVE: Former Hoya captain Gene Smith gives BigEastHoops24/7 his take on Hoyas v. Orange rivalry in early 80’s


Hoyas vs. Orangemen:  The Rivalry That Defined the Big East

Blog submission by Gene Smith:  NCAA National Champion in ’84, and Captain of the ‘83 and ‘84 Georgetown Hoyas.

Rivalries create legends, legends create history” –Ancient Greek Proverb

On December 5, 2015, the Georgetown Hoyas and the Syracuse Orangemen will renew their storied, legendary rivalry. I played my part in this history from 1980-1984.  Eleven times during this stretch, we Hoyas balled hard to a 7-4 record.

Let’s look back for a moment to the inaugural Big East season in 1979-1980 that set-off this rivalry.  Big John’s famous words “Manley Field House is officially closed “, punctuated the end of the Orangemen’s home-court win streak of 57 straight victories.  In that same year the Hoyas again beat the Orange in the Big East tournament finals 87-81, led by tourney MVP Craig Shelton.  Of the 90 times these two teams have played, no set of games looms larger than those two back-to-back defeats.  It was clear during that season that there was no love lost.

The intensity only escalated when in the ‘80-‘81 season the Orangemen, in the new 35,000 seat Carrier Dome, hosted the 2nd Big East tournament championship battle.  Syracuse beat out Villanova 83-80 in OT, with Leo Rautins tourney MVP.

In my four years, we played the Orangemen 3 times in the Big East tournament and the Hoyas came out of it with a 1-2 record.  In ‘81 they bounced us out in the semis 67-53 on the way to the title; in the ’82 finals we beat Villanova 72-54; in ‘83 the Orange bounced us out again 79-72 in the quarters; and in the ‘84 Big East championship OT game at MSG we added some not needed fuel to this rivalry, winning 82-71.

Syracuse appeared to have the game sealed, and all of the momentum and brilliance of Pearl Washington was on full display. There was a mix-up that involved Michael Graham and Andre Hawkins.  The referee initially signaled for Graham’s ejection but after review, a flagrant foul was given and the game continued with both teams even more dug-in and focused.

We, the Hoya guards, took the Pearl challenge very seriously.  We were defense 1st team and that dog in me had rubbed off on our guard Corps.  My 25 minutes played that game were dedicated to making the Pearl work. We had swept them in the regular season that year, so this game was the challenge all ballers wanted.

On the last play of regulation, Syracuse had the ball and either Sean Kerins or Wendell Alexis inbounded the ball.  I blanketed Pearl like a cornerback.  He did not see or touch the ball. Kerins missed from the corner in regulation, and the rest is history.

Syracuse’s Coach Boeheim went ballistic after the game screaming “the best team did not win tonight”. The rivalry just got reheated.

It was only fitting that in 2013 the Big East, as we knew it with the core members still intact, featured the Hoyas vs. the Orangemen in the semi-finals at MSG.  Of course the game went into OT.  In their Big East swan song, the Orangemen exacted some revenge and bounced the Hoyas 58-55. The Orangemen went on to lose in the finals to non-original Big East member Louisville 78-61, prompting most to say the semi-final game between the Hoyas and the Orangemen was the real finale. I was fortunate to be at MSG that night and bumped into multiple Orangemen, most notably Pearl.  We shook hands, took a picture for a fan, and kept it moving (no selfie). Rivalry personified.

You can follow Gene Smith on Twitter @gsmit8

Check out the below podcast link to hear Gene Smith talk about the 1984 Final Four.


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