By Mike Wise
Sunday, January 18, 2009
DURHAM, N.C. The good, unbiased people of Georgetown are going to make this about "The Call," that questionable (at best) technical that saddled frosh Greg Monroe with a fourth foul.
Yes, it came at a seminal moment in the second half of an emotional scrap against Duke that the Hoyas were beginning to feel good about.
But no, this was not simply about the call.
It was about maturing on the court in the most intense, volatile place to play that an 18-year-old such as Monroe could imagine, and about teenage guards being forced to grow up in a game that wasn't going to cost them a conference title.
Beyond that call, Georgetown had to deal with the levitation of Gerald Henderson, the instigation of Greg Paulus and kids caked in blue paint with names like Taylor and Mark, bobbing up and down for 40 minutes, chanting, "OUR HOUSE!" between thunder claps.
The Hoyas had to experience the cacophony of sound from one of college basketball's genuine shrines, that sinking reality that everyone cramming into this 69-year-old, stone-faced bandbox was against them.
Like Monroe, five minutes into the second half.
He said he didn't say boo to the referee.
"I can't say if I heard someone else, but I know I definitely didn't say anything," Monroe said afterward, barely audible in a baritone whisper.
The official, who had his back turned to the Georgetown bench before spinning around seething as he whistled a sitting Monroe for a technical foul, his fourth foul of the game, wasn't buying the finger-pointing elsewhere.
John Cahill, from the Big East of all places, helped give the 6-foot-11 gifted freshman and the Hoyas that familiar persecuted feeling road teams get at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Duke has lost a mere 14 games since 1997.
Was it a travesty call? No. It didn't cost anyone a season or a berth in the NCAA tournament, and it's not the main reason why Duke dropped Georgetown.
Cahill should have made the call on the Georgetown bench instead of robbing Georgetown of its offensive glue at a time the Hoyas had whittled a 15-point lead early in the second half to just 46-42.
A fan directly behind the bench in a yellow Steelers baseball cap was said to be the culprit instead of Monroe. Not wanting to be a watered-down Bartman, he revealed neither his name nor his alleged role.
Either way, he didn't catch an alley-oop out of a timeout and dunk maliciously over the Hoyas' frontline, as did Henderson, who finished with 23 points and was flat-out the most explosive player on the floor. He was better than DaJuan Summers, who played well but hurt the Hoyas by missing five free throws in the second half. Henderson was also more of a game-changer than Monroe was before the fourth foul.
Paulus is still the irascible kid you want on your team at open gym -- a stubby, stir-the-pot guard who throws good players off their game by coming within a centimeter of their face. He's also incredibly annoying to play against. As Players on Duke That America Loves To Hate go, he's maybe Wojo squared or Chris Collins to the Nth power.
Which would have made a Hoyas victory all the sweeter and more satisfying.
John Thompson III wouldn't bite on the "Aura of Cameron" notion, offering, "I didn't think the building had anything to do with it; I think it was their players."
Still, you can't tell me Monroe, or any of the underclassmen who saw time yesterday, have ever played in this kind of environment before. There's not a high school gym anywhere with thousands of torsos literally leaning over the court, cheering your demise.
In fact, if Cameron has helped Duke immeasurably at home, you wonder if such an awesome home-court advantage could actually hurt you on the road.
Think about it: Inside this protective cocoon, Duke and Mike Krzyzewski are often almighty and nearly indomitable, an astonishing 198-3 against their most-recent nonconference opponents. They're like the Irish flyweight, unbeaten in Dublin, where they sing "Danny Boy" before each fight.
Throw the kid in Las Vegas in a neutral ring? He's a fish out of water, looking longingly for his people, waiting for the noise.
That's essentially Duke playing at a neutral site in the NCAA tournament after being the kings of Cameron.
It would be intriguing to see these teams meet at a neutral site, just as intriguing as every meeting has been recently.
In Thompson's second season at Georgetown, almost three years to the day, the Hoyas' student section stormed Verizon Center, toppling metal folding chairs, tables and anything in their way after JT III's team had rocked top-ranked Duke.
It was the first definitive sign that the program his father once lorded over had returned with a vengeance.
Today, Duke doesn't represent a measuring stick as much as a more-established peer -- a missed opportunity against another top 15 team, a growing experience for nine of the 11 kids on the roster who had never been here before. No need to ruin any furniture after a win.
John Thompson, Jr., was asked on a Raleigh radio show this week why his Princeton-educated son would even think of playing at Duke in the middle of a brutal Big East schedule. He quipped that JT III probably got that impulse from his mother.
If that's so, she knows best. For a kid like Monroe and his young teammates, Duke and their raucous home court on a Saturday in January is exactly what Georgetown needs.