By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 26, 2007
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., March 25 -- When it was over, a player named Patrick Ewing wept openly in the locker room, one of college basketball's most storied programs was crestfallen and a coach named John Thompson was the last to clip the net from the rim. Twenty-five years after their classic NCAA men's basketball final, some of the events and names had been altered but the grand theater between Georgetown and North Carolina remained the same.
The Hoyas' grit and perseverance caught up to, and passed, the Tar Heels in the NCAA East Region championship game Sunday before an enraptured gathering of 19,577 at Continental Airlines Arena -- a riveting 96-84 overtime victory that catapulted Georgetown into the Final Four of the tournament for the first time since 1985.
The win also made John Thompson III and John Thompson Jr., the patriarch of the Georgetown basketball family, the first father-son duo to coach in the Final Four. The Hoyas will meet Ohio State in one semifinal Saturday at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, with the winner playing the winner of Florida-UCLA for the national title two nights later.
How Georgetown emerged two victories from its first national championship in 23 years will go down as the one of the great tales of resolve in the team's history. Coming back from a 10-point deficit in the final six minutes of a game that North Carolina controlled throughout, the Hoyas relied on a long and clutch three-pointer from Jonathan Wallace with 31 seconds left in regulation that tied the score for the first time since the 12-minute mark of the first half.
Jeff Green, named the region's most outstanding player, and his teammates overwhelmed North Carolina in overtime for the signature win of the second Thompson era. Hired to essentially do what his old man did three decades ago -- resurrect a moribund basketball program -- the son of John Thompson Jr. delivered in less than three years. That he had the son of Patrick Ewing Sr., the onetime Georgetown great who watched the game from the stands, on his side was equally memorable.
"You know, I think that the big-picture significance of that, I'll let you guys draw that up and paint that picture," Thompson III said, "as the coach of Georgetown University right now I'm extremely happy that Patrick Jr. is on my team."
Ewing's basket off a missed Green shot in the final minutes helped draw the Hoyas within one, and his effort on the defensive end embodied Georgetown's pressure against North Carolina, which had no answer for the Hoyas' zone defense the final seven minutes of the game. Ewing wept for joy afterward, saying: "I had to let out. All those years people said I wouldn't live up to my father. And to accomplish something he did in college, to go to the Final Four and hopefully win a national championship, I just lost it when I saw him and my family."
Seconds after they were given championship hats for winning the region final, the Georgetown players formed a single-file line toward the press table, where each either hugged or high-fived John Thompson Jr., who was announcing the game on the radio.
"Everybody fusses about whether I should be doing my son's games," Thompson Jr. said. "I found out I shouldn't. Because I was numb. I was deaf for five minutes. I was just like, 'They're gonna do this. They're gonna do this.' "
Until overtime, the Hoyas played catch-up all game -- thanks to one of the most well-lubricated machines in college basketball.
Lulled into a frenetic, stop-and-pop pace by North Carolina, Georgetown gave up more points in a half than it had all season. When the Hoyas went to the locker room at the intermission trailing 50-44, they had forfeited their most important weapon of all: tempo.
The patient, siphon-the-clock style that had characterized their runs through the Big East season, the conference tournament and on into late March was gone in the blink it took North Carolina's blazingly quick point guard, Ty Lawson, to dribble 94 feet.
The Tar Heels also smartly attacked the rim at the outset of the second half, forcing Roy Hibbert, the Hoyas' 7-foot-2 center, to pick up his third foul one minute into the second half. With Hibbert not on the floor to alter shots or at least change the trajectory of them, North Carolina's frontline of Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright took advantage. The game was played amid the specter of the schools' historic matchup on March 29, 1982, in New Orleans for the NCAA championship. That contest not only marked Michael Jordan's entrance onto the national stage -- he sank the title-winning jumper with 16 seconds remaining -- but two of the participants, James Worthy and Georgetown's indomitable center Patrick Ewing, became future NBA No. 1 draft picks. Thompson Jr., became the first black Division I head coach to guide his team to an NCAA final. And his legendary counterpart, Dean Smith, won his first title that night.
The ending was surreal, too. After Jordan's jumper, Hoyas sophomore point guard Fred Brown mistakenly passed the ball to Worthy with eight seconds remaining, sealing Georgetown's fate and eliciting one of the most touching, indelible scenes in sports: that of Thompson hugging and consoling his player as he walked off the court. Watching the madness unfold were 16-year-old John Thompson III, sitting across from his father's bench, and Roy Williams, now the Tar Heels' head coach, then a 31-year-old assistant to Smith.
Twenty-five years later, the late-game drama continued at the Meadowlands. There was no great gaffe at the end, but a gradual meltdown by North Carolina -- the result of questionable shot selection and the flailing arms and determined souls belonging to the Georgetown players in the final minutes. When they had put the game away on a riveting dunk by DaJuan Summers, the Hoyas bench stood up and began convulsing and shouting all at once.
Afterward, chants of "J.-T.-III! J.-T-III!" cascaded down from the stands, tumbling over the noise and commotion. Finally, Thompson III took the microphone and led a familiar, loud chant, the chant his father led in the Hoyas' locker room in Seattle after the school won the national title in 1984.
"We are . . . Georgetown! We are . . . Georgetown! We are . . . Georgetown!"