By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 21, 2009
He was only 9 years old at the time, but John Thompson III still remembers how hard his father took Georgetown's loss to Central Michigan in the 1975 NCAA tournament -- a game that was decided by a pair of free throws after a foul was called at the buzzer.
At 14, he saw his father go through the same heartache again, looking on from the stands at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, where Iowa edged the Hoyas by one point to advance to the 1980 Final Four.
So in 1984, at age 18, Thompson fully understood the magnitude of Georgetown's achievement when it beat Houston to win the NCAA championship.
A quarter-century later, he appreciates it even more after having walked in his father's shoes.
"Winning and success is taken for granted a lot of times," said Thompson, whose current Georgetown team has alternated between success and failure during this roller-coaster season.
There won't be a national title or conference championship at stake when Georgetown (14-10, 5-8 Big East) takes on 10th-ranked Marquette at Verizon Center today. It will take more than one victory to right this season, and one more loss won't cost Thompson his job. But the stakes are high, nonetheless.
Plus, members of Georgetown's 1984 national championship team will be on hand -- they will be honored during a 25th-anniversary celebration at halftime -- to lend whatever inspiration and encouragement is possible from the sideline.
A victory over Marquette (22-4, 11-2) is essential to restoring any possibility of a meaningful postseason for the Hoyas, who started out 12-3 but then lost seven of their next eight games.
Another loss would drop Georgetown to 5-9 in the Big East and likely would scuttle any hope of an NCAA tournament berth, barring a run in the conference tournament.
Not one current player was alive when Georgetown won the national title, but all have seen the trophy, on display in the basketball office at McDonough Arena. They are aware that it represents a shared heritage and expectation.
"It stands for pride," senior guard Jessie Sapp said. That team "overcame a lot of obstacles. And I felt like that was my life -- overcoming obstacles, pride and toughness. That's Georgetown basketball."
In this erratic Hoyas season, no single defeat has been more costly than another. But the Jan. 31 loss at Marquette was particularly disheartening.
The score was knotted at 42 at the half, and Georgetown had a three-point lead with about 16 minutes left. But it all unraveled down the stretch. The Hoyas' offense stalled, and Marquette couldn't miss. The final score was 94-82, with Marquette's Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews and Lazar Hayward combining for 72 points.
Today's rematch offers a chance to atone for the defensive lapses that cost the Hoyas the game. Georgetown played great defense in routing South Florida, 65-40, on Wednesday, but smothering the conference's 16th-ranked scoring offense is an easier task than stifling the league's top-ranked scoring offense. The Bulls average 60.2 points per game; the Golden Eagles average 80.
Looking back on the loss to Marquette, sophomore guard Chris Wright says the Hoyas got complacent on defense and nervous on offense. Georgetown has played better since, with Wright saying it's because players are relying more on instinct and less on a script.
"We always want to do what's right and be so precise in everything, but sometimes we forget that we're also basketball players, and we got here based off our God-given abilities," Wright said. "Sometimes you get caught up in schemes and everything. It's much needed, but at the same time you get caught up too much instead of just making the play."
With Michael Jackson, Horace Broadnax, Gene Smith, Ralph Dalton and others from the national championship squad looking on, Wright and his teammates hope to stage a show against Marquette that will make their predecessors proud.
Thompson hopes for the same.
"We understand the responsibility that this group has because of what that group did," Thompson said earlier this week. "We understand that we are able to sit here and be Georgetown because they were Georgetown."