Georgetown's nationally ranked basketball team came to Rose Hill yesterday for a Sunday afternoon picnic. It choked on the prescribed diet of Ram, however, and tumbled to a 63-59 setback at the hooves of emotionally charged Fordham.
Leading, 30-21, late in the first half, the Hoyas were outscored, 20-2, over the next 7 minutes 52 seconds. Although rallying as close as two points thereafter, they never caught up and closed their regular season with a 21-5 record.
The Rams, although finishing at 818, gave a boost to the permanent job hopes of interim Coach Tracy Tripucka. The club was only 3-8 after he replaced Dick Stewart, but he got the maximum from minimal talent and it would have been a nice gesture if Athletic Director Dave Rice had run out on the court at the conclusion with a new contract.
There was an outpouring of happy fans at game's end to celebrate the school's biggest victory during recent years of mediocrity.
"This isn't the kind of game where you do somersaults," said Tripucka, former Navy assistant. "It's a matter of pride. I'm proud of the kids. I told them it would be a couple of years before they understood what they did today."
"Every single game they've been ready to play. It's been hard to build up their confidence. You feel down when you go out and get beat, go out, and get beat. Kids that aren't as talented as other teams have to be ready to give everything, play an excited, emotional game."
The Rams were certainly ready yesterday, hitting 12 of 16 second-half shots, and battling the taller Hoyas even on the boards.
While Fordham played emotionally, Georgetown was obviously going through motions learned by rote. The television-inspired scheduling put this game between the TV victory over Holy Cross and Wednesday's ECAC Tournament opener against Virginia Commonwealth.
"This was a thorn-in-the-side ball game," said Georgetown Coach John Thompson. "We were at an emotional pitch for GW and Holy Cross, and we were conscious of the tournament on Wednesday. I knew at some point there would be an emotional drain, and we didn't have it today."
"This may actually have been a good thing. We've been winning every game that turns on a close situation like that, and maybe now the kids will realize it won't happen automatically."
It looked like an automatic victory as the Hoyas made their first two shots for a 4-0 lead. They cooled off quickly, however, and when Paul Williams converted a three-point play on Fordham's eighth possession, the Rams were down by only 4-3.
When Georgetown worked inside to build its 30-21 edge. Fordham abandoned its man-for-man defense and utilized a 1-2-2 zone. It worked splendidly, as Georgetown shot only 30 percent in the second half.
Meanwhile, sophomore guard Bill Lombardi clicked on six of eight outside shots to drive Georgetown from its zone to man-to-man pressure. That enabled Fordham to move inside for some big baskets by Williams and T. K. Tripucka, the coach's brother.
Trailing 32-27 at halftime, Fordham scored the first 14 points of the second half. Two Lombardi jumpers put the Rams ahead for the first time and junked Georgetown's zone. Then Williams drove for a basket and Tripucka netted a hook and a layup.
Georgetown scrambled to 43-41, but its poor shooting was too much to overcome. With 4 minutes left, the Hoyas were down by 52-49, and it would be 3 minutes 20 seconds before they would score again. A Williams jumper and five free throws extended the Rams' lead to 10 points at 59-49, while the Hoyas missed everything they threw up, including one-and-one free-throw tries by John Duren and Craig Shelton.
In the last 70 seconds, the Hoyas provided their rooters with some thrills. A Shelton layup and six straight Duren free throws, while Fordham salvaged only one of a possible six points at the line, trimmed the deficit to 60-57. Williams made both ends of a one-and-one, then Duren hit on a second rebound off the offensive boards.
With 14 seconds on the clock. Williams missed on a one-and-one. Georgetown was still alive, but Mike Riley missed a forced shot and Fordham controlled the ensuing jump ball.
The game's final play illustrated whose fortunes the man upstairs was backing yesterday. Tripucka was shooting a meaningless free throw with two seconds left. Fordham sent its other four players to backcourt to insure there was no foul on the rebound. Tripucka missed -- and took the rebound himself.
"Oh, well, maybe we contributed to him(Tracy Tripucka) getting hired again," Thompson said.
Asked about his prospects Tripucka said, "I don't want to cheapen it by bringing that into it.I just want to enjoy this game."