Then there was the news of the week to take into account: The Hoyas arrived in Beijing amid reports that Pakistan gave China a look at the tail section of the Black Hawk helicopter that crashed during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, and also, stories from the Chinese state media harshly criticizing American debt and economic practices.
Now throw in a physical game. Apparently the shoving and jawing started early, and never stopped. There were 57 free throws awarded to Bayi to just 15 for the Hoyas. At one point Bayi forward Xu Zhonghao stalked up to Thompson while he was shouting orders to his players, and began berating him. Thompson went slack jawed in incredulity, as if to say, “What have we gotten into here?”
Play had to be halted in the third quarter because matters were getting so truculent. There were fouls, arguments, technical fouls. Then Clark went to the floor with a hard foul, and something was said, and then someone was shoved.
Who or what really started it? We will never fully know. It’s entirely possible that the Hoyas shared equal responsibility.
But Thompson, to his immense credit, took the boil out of the water. He not only got his group off the floor and directly onto a bus back to their hotel, he quickly released a statement that, while refusing to apologize, was so gentlemanly it abridged any discussion of fault.
“Tonight, two great teams played a very competitive game that unfortunately ended after heated exchanges with both teams,’’ he said. “We sincerely regret that this situation occurred. We remain grateful for the opportunity our student-athletes are having to engage in a sport they love here in China, while strengthening their understanding of a nation we respect and admire at Georgetown University.’’
Thompson did his bit for the State Department. The only thing he left out of the statement was talk of “the importance of cooperation amid global uncertainty.” But inevitably, we will wonder if the fight exposed more than just a simmering rivalry between ballplayers.