Georgetown started getting the dastardly message long before it took the floor against Old Dominion Wednesday night.

For George Washington, the message that its basketball season was about to end in Philadelphia's Spectrum was a secret that Villanova kept until the last minute.

For weeks, GU and GW have pointed almost entirely for their sectional tournaments. For both, their title hopes were buried Wednesday in different ways.

An hour before Georgetown's ECAC Southern Division basketball playoff, ODU's 1,500 fans, bands, mascots and baby-blue cheerleaders had monopolized the best seats. The late-arriving supporters of the Hoyas waltzed into their gym and found it in enemy hands.

"The ECAC Stinks" said the ODU fans' that had awarded the homecourt advantage to the 19-7 Hoyas over their 24-2 Running' Monarchs.

Minutes before tipoff, Georgetown's fans unveiled their sophisticated, preppy cheer: "Hoia Saxa, Hoia Saxa."

The folks from Norfolk listened to this hodgepodge of Greek and Latin for about a minute. Then one Old Dominion cheerleader gave the sign. Fifteen hundred people leaped to their feet together and bellowed, "O."

"D" and "U" followed rather predictably, completely drowning out the polite "Hoia Saxas."

It went like that all night, the Old Dominion fans using organization and emotion to outcheer Georgetown fans, although they were outnumbered two-to-one.

"It felt like they had more fans than we did," said GU star Derrick Jackson.

"We had the home-court advantage tonight, just like we should have," grinned ODU coach Paul Webb. "The only difference for us between Norfolk and Washington is the motel and steak rates are higher."

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A stunned mood still prevailed on the Hilltop yesterday. "We got to keep working," said GU coach John Thompson. "We've got to get a plan of attack."

That attack is an all-out assault to obtain an invitation to this year's 16-team NIT tournament in New York's Madison Square Garden.

If drumbeating, a little healthy politicking and positive thinking have any power, Thompson may be right that, "We should have a pretty good chance to get in."

Certainly that is GU's earnest wish.

"Out last few games have been no indication of our team," said Thompson yesterday. The Hoyas lost three of their last four games. "For our peace of mind, we'd like to field a completely healthy team in the NIT and, if we're beat, at least go down with our best horses."

Even Thompson was not rash enough to claim that had two starters, center Ed Eapkins (who missed the game) and point-guard John Duren (half-speed) been healthy that GU would have won.

"They might have beaten our socks off just as bad," said Thompson. "But at least I have to think it would have been a good game."

Georgetown's chances of redeeming itself in the NIT are currently in a thick backroom fog.

NIT director Pete Carlesimo, athletic director at Fordham, says that Georgetown "is very much in the picture."

But it's a mighty big picture. The NIT, trying to shake its provincial, money-losing New York image, plans to have eight regional playoff games across the country with the eight winners meeting in New York, starting March 14.

If Carlesino and his fellow selection committee members, athletic directors at St. John's, Wagner, Manhattan and NYU, are fortunate, the NIT field will have representatives from the ACC, SEC, Big 10, WAC and other powerful conferences. At most, only six Eastern teams, and more likely four, would make the field of 16.

Selections will be made starting Sunday night.

George Washington does not have to worry about such things. Colonial coach Bob Tallent came across three underclassmen lifting weights yesterday after their 80-72 loss to Villanova in the Eastern Eight opener.

"Why don't you guys take about two weeks off," said Tallent. "Forget about basketball."

Tallent makes a preseason prediction each year of what he thinks his team's regular-season record will be. In his first two years he has hit the final mark on the nose.

This year he predicted 16-9. "I knew we wouldn't be as good as last year . . . inexperienced . . . but I thought we'd be tough by March"

The Colonials' 14-11 regular-season mark (before the Villanova loss) didn't annoy Tallent so much as the fact that the record showed a "complete deviation" from the way the coach expected the season to go.

"It was entirely crazy," said Tallent. "I hardly picked anything right. We beat Maryland and Dusquesne on the road, then lost at home to Richmond. We beat Massachusetts and Georgetown back-to-back, but we lost to St. Peter's and Connecticut back-to-back."

Craziest of all, and the burr that will stick under Tallent's saddle until next November was Saturday's loss to American U. It cost GW it's one chance for glory - the local city championship. "I was sure we'd win that one with all the motivation we had," graoned Tallent. "But I guess AU didn't buy it."

For now, Tallent feels a mixture of season-end emotions. Blended with sadness that "John Holloran had to end his last season so quickly and on a loss," was respectful disbelief at "the way that old Keith Herron of Villanova threw in a 25-footer like a stake in our hearts after we'd come back from 16 behind to tie."

All summer Tallent must worry about "putting in a new inside-oriented offense built around Les Anderson, Mike Zagardo and Tom Glenn. I don't know if our tradition of great shooting guards will continue."

"It wasn't a great year," said Tallent, who might as well have been speaking for several of Washington's other around-.500 coaches. "But I can live with it."