To fully understand Georgetown University's nice basketball victory tonight, you have to know that the team's coach, John Thompson, has a very strong voice. Next to him, a bomb whispers. If ever in a moment of sadness he were to lose control and shout at the full strength of his awesome voice -- good Lord, the first T-bomb! -- the forests would fall and wild animals would run into the ocean and Brezhnev would get on the hot line to find out what the hell is going on.
It is halftime and Georgetown leads St. John's, 39-32. In the Hoyas' locker room, John Thompson is speaking. He is speaking very loudly. Seismographs in New Zealand quiver. The coach is speaking to his best player, the wonderful Craig Shelton, a strongman with grace who will be a No. 1 draft choice in the professionals.
T-bombs, you should know, turn the air blue. Thompson is speaking very loudly in words we can not print.
"I cursed him," the coach said later with a fatherly smile and chuckle of delight.
"I'm glad he did," the star said later, also smiling happily. "Sometimes a player needs that. Coach knows it. Sometimes a player forgets the basic rule of the game: Never let down. Coach cussed me out and got me more into the game.
"I jumped on Craig good," Thompson said. "He came in at halftime and acted like he was despondent. I said, "Hey, Craig, come on, just play.' Craig reacted. He always does."
Partly because Thompson wanted to save some of Shelton's energy for Saturday's championship game and partly because the 6-foot-7 senior forward was getting nothing done -- four points, no rebounds -- Shelton sat on the bench the last 7-1/2 minutes of the first half of tonight's Big East tournament game.
But after being invigorated with the blue shock waves of that halftime T-bomb, Shelton put his mark indelibly on the second half by scoring 17 more points and getting four rebounds. In Georgetown's control offense the last 14 minutes, Shelton was mighty under the basket. Of the Hoyas' first 14 points in that offense designed to slowly torture an opponent into submission, Shelton scored nine -- all on powerful moves toward the hoop.
And when it was over, when Georgetown had won its 12th straight game, when the nation's No. 20-ranked team had beaten No. 8 by 76-66, when the Hoyas showed they are good enough to win a national championship -- at the end, the losing coach, Lou Carnesecca, said there just wasn't anything St. John's could do against Georgetown.
"The hottest club going, no doubt, is Georgetown," said Carnesecca, whose team was the last to beat the Hoyas, doing the job six weeks ago.
"The last time, when we beat them, they were searching," Carnesecca said.
Georgetown has found it. The Hoyas have three centers, quick Mike Hancock, strong Ed Spriggs and mountainous Mike Frazier. They have four forwards in Shelton, Al Dutch, Jeff Bulli and Eric Smith. They have three guards in John Duren, Eric Floyd and Terry Fenlon.
The Hoyas also have speed, muscle, discipline, the most aggressive zone defense seen in a long while and a patient, opportunistic offense that will beat you if you let it get ahead in the last five or six minutes.
"We just got mangled on the boards," Carnesecca said, continuing the post-mortem. "They are a whale of a ball club. They have such good ballplayers who can do so many things. If they get ahead of you, you're in trouble. Floyd and Duren are as good as anybody. Shelton really gorillas you to death. And they have those three centers who really complement them."
Carnesecca then moved his hand in approximation of, say, a jet plane taking off.
"Georgetown," he said "is like that."
On the way up, certainly, but how high?
National championship high?
"Hey, they barely lost to Indiana at Indiana. They beat Maryland. They're a helluva club. They had their slump at the beginning. You saw them tonight. You had to be impressed."
The second half tonight was a textbook example of how Georgetown wins basketball games.
Ahead by 11 points, 23-17, when Shelton took his alleged despondency to the bench in the first half Georgetown's lead was yet seven at halftime, thanks to a Duren 17-footer at the buzzer.
In the first two minutes of the second half, Georgetown won this game. It outscored St. John's 7-0, and led by 46-32. So with 14 minutes to play, Thompson ordered his team into the control offense designed to produce only layups and free throws. Because all the Georgetown players are superb ballhandlers, they seldom give the ball away and an opponent's only recourse is to foul.
As best memory serves, the Hoyas did not shoot anything but layups the last 10 minutes. And poor, desperate, exhausted St. John's could not stop the Hoyas.
"If we're only ahead one or two points, it's still up in the air," said Duren, the senior guard entrusted with operating the offense. "But if we're up seven or eight, it's up to us to keep it in hand and not make stupid turnovers."
"Georgetown is so very patient," said Bernard Rencher, a St. John's guard who chased Duren all over the lot to no avail. "They just pick you apart."
In the last 10 minutes, Georgetown made only four field goals, all on layups and rebounds, but added 10 free throws.
Now comes Syracuse, the nation's No. 2- or 3-ranked team, in Saturday's championship game, and if Georgetown is to continue upward on Carnesecca's jet-plane glide path, the Hoyas will need the same aggressive defense and precise offense that produced a 52-50 victory over the Orangemen two weeks ago at Syracuse.
"Georgetown has the momentum, but Syracuse is capable of knocking them out of that," said Reggie Carter, the St. John's star. "It will go down to a two- or three-point game."
And would Craig Shelton be surprised to hear another T-bomb Saturday?
"Oh, no, sir," he said, laughing.