For two weeks in the spring of 2001, Craig Esherick was the talk of college basketball, and he had Nat Burton to thank for it.
Burton (variously referred to as as Nat, Nate, or Nathaniel in Georgetown press coverage) was a workhorse of the transitional years from John Thompson to Craig Esherick, and whose heroics in the 2001 NCAA's elevated Georgetown to its only Sweet 16 appearance between 1996 and 2006.
Burton was named a starter in only his second collegiate game, a byproduct of a very thin Georgetown roster in 1997-98. He started 17 games that season, scoring five times in double figures. By his sophomore year, Burton started 28 of 31 games, finishing third on the team in scoring and with double figures in 12 of the team's final 14 games. Burton was not an adept outside shooter (his three point shooting hovered around 25 percent) but he was tenacious inside and scrapped for any available rebounds despite his 6-4 frame. Burton's average of 11.4 points and 4.9 rebounds was a bright spot as the Hoyas advanced to the second round of the NIT.
Esherick's introduction of a taller lineup in 1999-2000 that featured 6-7 Victor Samnick, 6-10 Lee Scruggs, and 6-11 Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje reduced Burton's role to that of a reserve. Burton continued to play hard off the bench, averaging 7.1 points and 4.8 rebounds with seven double figure games. By 2001, Burton's time and scoring had further diminished, but he stepped up in a number of critical games.
Many of Nat's best games were early in the season at hostile arenas. An 11 point effort helped Georgetown surprise Louisville, 70-63, while he led the team with eight rebounds in a win at Houston. Following a 16 point effort against Virginia Tech, Burton's time diminished and so did his scoring, as he scored just 30 points in his final 13 regular season games. Still, his experience proved valuable in late game situations, none more so than the evening of March 15, 2001.
It was the first round of the 2001 NCAA's, where Georgetown had lost 7 of its final 13 games that season and was embarrassed in an stunning loss to Seton Hall in the first round of the Big East tournament. Entering as the #10 seed, Georgetown faced a tie game with seventh seeded Arkansas with 35.8 seconds left. After a timeout and a pass from Victor Samnick, Burton held the ball with the intent of finding Kevin Braswell for a last second shot. Unable to get the ball to Braswell, Burton opted to go himself, with the senior guard driving down the stretch as the clock wound down. The shot rolled in at the buzzer, giving the Hoyas its first NCAA win in four years and its first buzzer beater in NCAA play in 13 years. Two days later, Burton scored 13 points in a second round win over Hampton, sending the Hoyas to the Sweet 16.
When asked in the 2001-01 press guide what he would like his coaches to say about him, Nat Burton replied: "I could trust him with anything." In the biggest moment of the Craig Esherick era, he delivered.