By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 19, 2006
The players for the eighth-ranked Georgetown men's basketball team won't have to travel far for tonight's game against Old Dominion. They won't have to take a bus across town to Verizon Center; instead, they'll be able to walk to McDonough Arena and play in the same gym where they practice, a rare treat.
Georgetown moved its home games off campus -- first to Landover and later downtown -- following the 1980-81 season, and just 26 games have been played on campus since then. Only a quarter of them have involved a nationally ranked Georgetown team.
Coach John Thompson III has made a priority of playing at McDonough; tonight's game marks the fourth of his three-year tenure, and he said that he would like to play at least one game at McDonough every season. Georgetown (2-0) also will play Winston-Salem State on campus on Dec. 16.
"It's nice to play in these tight quarters," Thompson said. Georgetown hasn't lost in its cozy arena since Jan. 20, 1982, when Connecticut upset the 13th-ranked Hoyas, 63-52. Since then, Georgetown has won 23 straight games at McDonough by an average of 27.8 points.
The gym's capacity -- currently listed as 2,400 -- has fluctuated over the years. In January 1984, snowy weather forced sixth-ranked Georgetown to play Providence on campus (the game was originally scheduled for Capital Centre), and 4,328 fans squeezed in. More recently, a standing-room-only crowd of 2,604 watched the Hoyas beat Cal State Fullerton in the National Invitation Tournament in March 2005.
A repeat of the frenzied atmosphere of the NIT game is what the athletic department is hoping for tonight. Students were given priority for tickets, according to Kim Frank, director of marketing and ticket operations; their season ticket package included tonight's game, while the regular season ticket package did not. Season ticket holders were able to purchase whatever tickets were not claimed by students on a first-come, first-served basis. The game is sold out. In previous seasons, tickets had been available at the door.
"The atmosphere in McDonough is real nice," junior Jonathan Wallace said. "Fans and students are closer to the game, so it's a bit louder and more intense."
Playing in familiar surroundings could help the Hoyas with their three-point shooting, which thus far has been dismal (28.6 percent). Wallace has made 50 percent (5 for 10) of his shots from beyond the arc, but the rest of the Hoyas are shooting just 20 percent (5 for 25). The sightlines in McDonough are very different, and Wallace said that it is a slightly better gym to shoot in because the walls are closer to the basket.
"Being comfortable helps a lot as far as being a player," said Wallace, the only Hoya who has made more than one three-point shot this season. "So playing where you practice every day helps you settle in and relax."
However, finding time to practice at Verizon Center, which is home to the Wizards and Capitals, can be tricky. It varies from year to year, according to Thompson. In his first season, the Hoyas had "a handful" of practices before their first game (it helped that the NHL was on strike at the time). Last season, Georgetown had one 90-minute practice session before its season opener against Vanderbilt (a 68-61 loss). This year, Georgetown had two practices at Verizon Center before playing Hartford.
"I have made a conscious effort to tell our guys that it does not make a difference," Thompson said. "Shooters shoot, and guys that can make shots will make shots. In a perfect world, would I prefer that we play where we practice every day? Yes. But that's not the world we live in, so why dwell on it?"
Thompson tries to make the best of the situation. When he talks to recruits, he sells them on the idea of playing inside a 20,600-seat pro arena, which has developed a much better game-day atmosphere over the past year.
"In this day and age, it seems like a lot of [programs] are moving towards practice facilities," Thompson said. "If you look at McDonough as it is going to be used on Sunday, as a home venue, then you step back and say, 'Whoa, it needs a lot of work here.' But if you look at this as it is used the other 363 days of the year, as a practice facility, it's pretty good."