Although it will be only a consolation game, before Texas and North Carolina State meet for the National Invitation Tournament championship tonight, (WTTG-TV-5 at 8 p.m.) the Georgetown-Rutgers battle is far from a meaningless one for the Hoyas.
"Tuesday night might be meaningless right now," Hoya guard Mike Riley said minutes after N.C. State's overtime victory over Georgetown Sunday night. "But when the whistle blows Tuesday, we're going to play hard. That's our pride and that competitive instinct."
Those elements and teamwork carried Georgetown to its best basketball season ever. A victory tonight will give the Hoyas a 24-7 record. Their main problem tonight should be stopping Rutgers center James Bailey, one of the nation's best.
There is bad blood between Rutgers and Georgetown. The schools had played for 10 straight years through 1974, when Georgetown upset a strong Rutgers club at McDonough Gymnasium.
Afterward, Rutgers Coach Tom Young, formerly of American University, claimed his team was "homered" and his players attempted to storm the officials' dressing room. It had developed into one of those "hate" series, and it was ended by what Georgetown spokesman John Blake Termed "a mutual agreement."
Like Hoya Coach John Thompson, Texas Coach Abe Lemons is a man who thinks basketball is only a game, "a timeout in the game of life" as retired Marquette Al McGuire so eloquently put it.
So, yesterday, Lemons put things in perspective.
"I haven't really been thinking much about the game," Lemons said. "I went in and had a couple of eggs for breakfast, and it cost $4.95. (Pause.) I asked to see the chicken. (Pause). I never saw a chicken that could lay two $4.95 eggs.
"Sure enough, there it was, with a little parasol and they had a little bed for it and everything. It was well worth it, just seeing that chicken. That to me is more amazing than the game."
He downplays his role as a coach, but he is a superb tactician who lets his players run a loosey-goosey. Freelance offense that sometimes results in 40-foot shots. Lemons believes strongly in self-motivation, regardless of the game or profession. He says he teaches the players what to do and tells them how to do it, they have to do it themselves.
"To play for him you have to shoot it," said Longhorn forward Ron Baxter, a 6-foot-4 sophomore from Los Angeles. "Most shooters don't have a conscience. We're a team that doesn't have a conscience. We won (in the semifinals) by 20 points over Rutgers (96-76) just by listening to him. It is when we don't listen to him, when we get in trouble."
State Coach Norman Sloane and his players watched the 25-5 Longhorns Sunday night. They thought Texas played similar to Duke in many respects.
"But we haven't played anybody that has an offense like them with the great outside shooters," Sloane said. "I was a little startled and still am about the length of their shots that go in. I hated for my guys to see that because I've been telling them you can't shoot from that far out and make them."
However, it was a 30-footer by his Clyde Austin that beat Georgetown in the semifinals.
What Lemons doesn't want is a physical game, such as the State-Georgetown affair. Such a contest figures to give the 21-9 Wolfpack from the Atlantic Coast Conference an advantage, especially in offensive rebounding.
"What are we going to do?" Lemons said. "Overpower them on the boards? We can't give the ball to Earl Campbell (Texas' Heisman Trophy winner) and let him run it through. So we give it to (guard Jim) Krivacs and let him shoot it."
Jimms the Greek favors Texas by three points, Rutgers by one.