"What a way to make a living," John Thompson said. He's the basketball coach at Georgetown University, and he says those words after every game. Georgetown won a laugher tonight, 73-52 over Old Dominion in the ECAC tournament, and a minute later here came Thompson, a quart of milk in hand, saying a grown-up person ought to sell insurance instead of do this craziness.

This was no test for the Hoyas. Old Dominion didn't have its best player, a 24-point scorere named Ronnie Valentine, who broke a foot three weeks ago. Without their horse, the Dominions mounted no offensive threat. Fact is, they played terribly at both ends.

"We were very impatient at times," said the losing coach, Paul Webb. He meant his players put up shots before looking at the rim. Bill Bradley, the U.S. senator, once said he colud shoot without looking because, "You have a sense of where you are." If these Dominions depended on an inner sense for location, they will need a guide dog to get home.

One loser made one of 10 shots, another one of seven. The frustration carried over to the defensive end, too, and one example suffices....

Midway through the second half, Georgetown's Steve Martin made a head fake. The Old Dominion defender, Tommy Branch, a freshman out of De Matha High, fell down in response. So Martin quickly stepped over the fallen man -- only to find his left leg caught in a scissors hold by Branch's legs. If Branch couldn't move, he wasn't going to let Martin move, either.

A referee saw the shenanigans and tagged Branch with his fourth foul.

So it goes when one team is vastly superior to another. Although Georgetown's 22-4 won-lost record didn't seem that much better than Old Dominion's 21-5, Thompson's minions played well within themselves to win.

They did it without Tommy Scates, too. The big Georgetown center played only 3 1/2 minutes before twisting his left knee. He collapsed in pain and spent the rest of the game on the bench with ice wrapped tightly against the knee.

His backup man, Ed Spriggs, handled the job respectably, pulling down eight rebounds and shutting off the middle defensively. But he also picked up four fouls. Against a very good team -- against a Syracuse, say -- Georgetown will need both Scates and Springgs at there best.

Now we see why, in a laughter, John Thompson isn't laughing.

At Georgetown's level of the game, the only important game is the next one. Those seductive words, "national championship," have been spoken by Thompson's players this season, of extraordinary ordinariness -- maybe 20 teams are good enough to win the NCAA championship -- a coach doesn't want a single thing to go wrong near tournament time.

For what Thompson asks of him, Tommy Scates is a perfect basketball player. He asks Scates to stand in the middle of the lane in a two-three zone defense, to get every rebound that comes his way and to loom tall, Mt. Scates, over opponents who would wander near the hoop. Scates has blocked 64 shots this year, a school record, and when Thompson surrounds him with four very quick teammates, Georgetown's defense is superb.

Without Scates, however, Georgetown is in trouble because Spriggs, while earnest, is yet a freshman playing his first year of organized basketball. It is too much to expect him to help you win games in a national-championship tournament.

"It washurting," Scates said of his knee, "and it still is," He sat in the Georgetown locker room, his left leg extended. The championship game of this Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Southern Division play-off will be played Saturday afternoon at Cole Field House. Georgetown's opponent will be Syracuse, ranked No. 5 and No. 6 in the wire-service polls this week.

One of Syracusehs strengths is its center, Roosevelt Bouie, a mobile giant.

"I'm hoping Tommy is OK," said Ed Spriggs. "If he can't play, though, I'll do my best."

Someone asked Bill Stein, a Georgetown assistant coach, if the Hoyas had anyone scouting Syracuse's 83-71 victory over St. Bonaventure notight.

"The Lord," Stein said, lifting his eyes to the heavens.