Georgetown made its debut in the newly formed Big East Conference last night and the evening was hardly an artistic success.

After his team had stumbled and fumbled to a 55-50 conquest of a mediocre Providence team in front of 4,418 fans in McDonough Arena, Hoya Coach John Thompson was not complaining.

"These kids aren't machines," he said. "They lost a whole night's sleep coming back from New Mexico Monday morning and it showed tonight. All I wanted to do was get out of this game alive, with a win and we did it." a

The Hoyas, now 6-1, did it in spite of 18 GU turnovrs because Providence (4-2) could not handle Thompson's switching defenses and because the Hoyas, admittedly tired from their travels, were alert enough the first half to build up a lead the Friars never overcame.

"We lost our concentration after a while" said Craig Shelton, who led the way with 18 points and 10 rebounds despite foul problems the second half. "Being tired is part of the game. We had our composure when we needed it at the end."

Thompson also had his composure when his team needed it.

Although the Hoyas led by 11 twice, once in the first half and once early in the second, Providence, on the shooting of Rudy Williams (14 points) and Jerry Scott (12) was within striking distance at 50-42 with nine minutes left.

When Williams missed a 15-foot jump shot that could have cut the margin to six, Thompson decided it was time to shorten the basketball game.

For the next three minutes Georgetown swung the ball around the perimeter, not even looking toward the basket. Providence Coach Gary Walters made things a bit easier by keeping his team in its zone defense during the period, finally pulling them into man to man with the clock down to six minutes.

The time ran down to 5:50 before Scott fouled Shelton, who made one of two for a nine-point margin. Scott immediately answered with a successful jumper, then the Hoyas killed another minute before Eric Floyd was fouled. Floyd missed the free throw and Williams cut the margin to 51-46 with 3:18 left.

But the Friars never got closer. Shelton sank two free throws to make it 53-46, then Eric Smith stole the ball from Williams. The Hoyas killed another minute before Smith made a free throw with 1:59 left for a 54-46 lead. a

"That's why they're the 17th-ranked team in the country," said Walters, former Dartmouth coach in his first year as Providence leader. "They do what they have to at the end. Their big guys can beat you inside, their little guys handle it well outside.

"They have all the ingredients. They're just a good team, that's all."

The Hoyas were just enough last night. Early, they looked ready to roll when they jumped to a 29-18 lead with 5:25 left in the half on a gorgeous John Duren to Floyd two-on-one break.

But suddenly the smooth machine bogged down, turning the ball over five of the next six possessions and going scoreless for four minutes. Providence cut the margins to 31-26 by halftime.

"We lost our concentration," said Duren, echoing Shelton. "We did some things, some slopply things we don't normally do. But we still won."

The Hoyas got the lead back to 11, at 41-30 on a dunk by 13-point man Floyd off one of 12 Georgetown steals, with 16:50 left but then scored just 14 points the rest of the way. That was partly because of the delay game, partly because of mistakes. Typically accurate, GW shot 64 percent of the game, to Providence's 45 percent.