Georgetown's 16th-ranked basketball team, still hoping for an at-large NCAA tournament bid, can take a giant step toward that goal when the Hoyas meet vastly improved Boston College tonight at 8 at McDonough Arena.

A record crowd is expected for a game (WTTG-TV-5) that figures to be close and terribly emotional as senior starters Steve Martin and Tom Scates are to be honored at halftime. But don't tell that to Georgetown Coach John Thompson.

"We don't operate on emotions," Thompson insisted yesterday. "We're human, but we don't say any game is a great big one. This is a way of life for the players.

"The emotion of the game between two Jesuit schools, the big crowd, does affect fans. But we like to maintain a stable level of emotion."

The Hoyas (19-4) probably are going to have to keep their wits about them against a Boston College team that is 20-6 under second-year Coach Tom Davis, a former Maryland and American University assistant.

Davis turned B.C. from an 8-18 team in 1976 to a 15-11 club last season. One of those victories was an 81-76 decision over the Hoyas, ending at 12 what had been the nation's longest winning streak.

Georgetown has two other difficult games left to close its regular season -- at George Washington and at Holy Cross -- and the Hoyas would like to win them all. That could assure an NCAA at-large bid, in case they do not get an Eastern College Athletic Conference divisional championship invitation.

Georgetown is in competition with Virginia Commonwealth (19-4) and Old Dominion (18-4) for the two places in the ECAC Southern Division championship game.

"I think all games we play are important to us," Thompson said. "We want to win every game and we're conscious of the fact that we're competing for a tournament spot, but we can't play three games at once. If you think about that, you get yourself in trouble. We have to just think about Boston College."

Last year, the Eagles, a fundamentally sound team, put up a zone defense that shut off Georgetown's inside game. The heart of the Hoyas' offense is contained in leading scorer and rebounder Craig (Big Sky) Shelton, shooting 66 percent and averaging 19 points over the last 11 games.

The Hoyas expect to have some difficulty getting the ball to Shelton and will need sharp shooting from guards Eric (Sleepy) Floyd and John Duren, who average more than 30 points a game between them.

Boston College's main weapon is 5-foot-11 guard Ernie Cobb, averaging 21.2 points. He has led the Eagles in scoring in 22 of their 26 games.

"He shoots almost twice as much as anyone else on their team," Thompson said. "He is the one we really have to contain. He played very well against us last year.

"We will play both man and zone on them, and Duren and Floyd will switch off guarding him."

In other games involving area teams, Navy (9-12) is at Manhattan (4-18) at 2 p.m.; George Washington (12-10) is at Massachusetts (5-13) at 7:30; George Mason visits James Madison (16-6) at 8 and Virginia (16-7) plaays host to North Carolina at 7:30 p.m.

GW has won four in a row and hopes to continue that spurt with swingman Bob Lindsay recovered from torn knee ligaments.

The Colonials, now in fifth place in the Eastern Eight, must win games to-the Eastern Eight, must win tonight and against West Virginia next Saturday to guarantee opening the league playoffs at home.

In the last Virginia-North Carolina game at Chapel Hill, Carolina took an 86-74 double overtime decision.

North Carolina is 7-2 in the ACC and still can overtake league leader Duke. Virginia, in third place in the ACC at 6-4, could virtually lock up third place with a victory, and still has a shot at second place. The Cavaliers have won five of their last six and 10 of their last 13.