They ran a box-and-one, a diamond- and-one, the four corners, a doublestack stall, a man-to-man, a 2-1-2 and a zone press. Georgetown University's basketball team tried everything today. But it lost to Rutgers in the NCAA tournament's East Regional, 64-58, because it had no one who could play in James Bailey's territory.
Bailey really gets up. The program says he is 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds. Forget those numbers. This guy is a rocket in sneakers. When Bailey launches himself, you can go get a hot dog, call your girlfriend long distance, have a new muffler installed and be back in your seat before he comes down.
This has not been a good season for Bailey. Though he is averaging 18.4 points a game, Rutgerites believed Bailey was less a player than he's been as a junior. They said he had the professionals' bankbooks on his mind. They pointed to his rebounding average, which is 8.1, and said he could get that many without leaving bed in the morning.
But when it mattered most today, Bailey was the man. Radar screens in Greenland picked him up and small aircraft were diverted from the area above Providence's Civic Center. For such suborbital flights as Bailey made, Georgetown Coach John Thompson had no defense. And Bailey won the game in one 6 1/2-minute stretch of the second half.
He put Rutgers ahead, 45-44, with a dunk shot off a high pass. How words fail here. He did not "dunk" the shot. That suggests a doughnut being dipped ever so carefully in a cup of coffee. What Bailey did was bury the shot. Seismograph readers in the Soviet Union predicted an earthquake based on data from the Northeast U.S. at 3:30 p.m. today.
A minute later, he did it again -- and this time Georgetown was buried with the shot, because its best big man, Craig Shelton, injudiciously challenged Bailey's right to wreak havoc from the skies. Shelton was called for his fifth foul.
That Bailey burial only tied the game at 48-all, but without Shelton it was all over for the Hoyas. Georgetown, a team always beautiful for its resourcefulness, could not create any strategy to cover the loss of its only inside scoring threat.
Georgetown's weaknesses were painfully clear then. The Hoyas could not score from inside. They were forced to play with three freshmen under NCAA tournament pressure for the first time.
With center Ed Spriggs exhausted and no substitute available for him, the Hoyas could not get a rebound away from Bailey; and their best outside shooters, freshman Eric Floyd and junior John Duren, made only three of 16 in the decisive second half.
So Georgetown ended the season with a 24-5 won-lost record, the best in the school's history.
No one wept. In defeat, the locker room was quiet, but no funereal. For 15 minutes, Thompson spoke to his players behind closed doors. He told them that this defeat was no reason for shame. He told them they had succeeded and had a lot to be proud of, a lot to remember always.
"The kids did everything I asked of them all year," Thompson said to a reporter. "They did their best all the time and I can't ask for anything more than that. I'm extremely proud of them."
Yet, Thompson said, it was disappointing to lose.
"Only one team doesn't lose and that is the one that wins the national championship. We're going to keep trying."
If Thompson's ambition is a national championship for Georgetown, today's defeat is an object lesson in how far the Hoyas have to go.
Tommy Scates, the mountain of a center, did not play because of a bad knee. That hurt the Hoyas some, but not all that much. Spriggs played magnificently. Some rest would have kept him moving better near game's end, but Scates and Spriggs together don't amount to an offensive threat half the quality of the flying Bailey.
The burden of providing the inside offense for Georgetown fell on Shelton alone, and you cannot win a national championship with one man scoring inside. Without a scoring center and with Shelton in foul trouble, Georgetown today was forced to rely on outside shooting. You do not win a national championship from 18 feet, because no team shoots well from outside every night.
As long as Georgetown effectively controls the rhythm of a game with its resourcefulness -- enticing the enemy into fouls of frustration and so scoring from the free-throw line what it cannot score otherwise -- the Hoyas are capable of beating anyone.
But to win it all a team must, on some nights, win when it plays beneath its capabilities. It must win with help from the reserves. Georgetown's bench is terribly weak and Thompson, recruiting for a school without a solid national reputation, will have a difficult time building quality depth. A player who might tolerate some bench time at, say, Kentucky will not choose to sit idle for the Hoyas.
As most teams do, Georgetown needs a good center so spriggs can move to forward, a spot more suited for him. If Thompson somehow lands three or four first-quality recruits, Georgetown -- already the best team in Washington -- will be among the nation's best all next season.
Scates and Steve Martin will be graduated. Four of today's starters and both reserves will return.
"This has been a very beneficial year for us," said Scates, who suited up today although he knew he would not play. "People know Georgetown's name now. It will only get better."
Leaning against a wall, Georgetown's publicity director, John Blake, looked at Bob Grier, an assistant coach, and said. "It's weird. It just ends." He felt empty.
Grier said, "It ain't over." It has been 36 years since Georgetown last won an NCAA tournament game. Thompson and Grier and their players dream of a national championship.
"The game may be over," Grier said, "but it all ain't over."