At halftime, Georgetown's most famous sophomore -- Pearl Bailey -- had burst into song: "Back home again, in Indiana." Over and over her delicious words floated into the Spectrum air, for the Hoyas -- with a 10-point lead -- surely were headed toward Indianapolis and the NCAA semifinals.

Somewhere over Valparasio, landing strip within sight, the damndest shooting force in memory struck the Hoyas, swarmed all over the plane and captured it at the last moment. The Hoyas' best game of the season ended in defeat.

This was the most memorable game a Washington-area team has played in six years, or since Maryland lost in double overtime to a North Carolina State machine that eventually won the NCAA championship.

And who is to step forward and insist the Iowa Hawkeyes, an immensely appealing team, cannot win two more games and the national title? These guys wouldn't say "uncle" if their arms were twisted 20 degrees past the breaking point.

How Iowa won today defies belief. With that 10-point lead, Georgetown shot much better the second half than the first. It made an astonishing 68 percent of its shots, 15 of 22. Anyone that accurate usually wins by two dozen points.

Georgetown lost.

Hoop scholars will dissect this game for years, for the answers to an Iowa near-miracle lie deep within the play-by-play material -- and perhaps on the whims of the athletic gods.

Iowa also shot stunningly well, 71 percent for the second half. But it made just two more field goals than Georgetown the last 20 minutes. So what went wrong, especially with Sleepy Floyd playing almost as well as any player ever in an NCAA tournament?

Georgetown was a gracious loser instead of a delirious winner because some seemingly harmless mistakes added up to disaster: a back-court violation by John Duren, the ball slipping off Ed Sprigg's hand on a slam-dunk attempt in traffic, and some unnecessary fouls that allowed Iowa to get bonus free throws far too early.

"Not only could I feel the momentum slipping," Coach John Thompson said later, "I could see it."

What caught his eyes in the last 14 seconds epitomizes why he was sipping his ulcer-prevention medicine: milk. There were his excellent Erics, Floyd and Smith, tripping over each other near midcourt, freeing Kevin Boyle to penetrate to the free-throw lane.

That was an accident that compounded itself, for it forced another Hoya, Spriggs, to keep Boyle from an easy layup. Then Spriggs, out of position, was beaten by the man to whom Boyle threw the ball, Steve Waite.

This meant just one Hoya, Craig Shelton, stood between Waite and the go-ahead basket with five seconds left. Shelton is Georgetown's best leaper, its toughest player, its best chance to do what had to be done -- keep the ball from slipping into the basket.

There had to be a violent midair collison. Shelton had to belt Waite and the basketball. He had to make Waite earn Iowa's points from the foul line. And there was no way Waite, mobile as he is, would out-muscle Big Sky in the sky.

There was a way, the craziest way imaginable:

The net.

As Shelton was soaring toward the ball, his hand got tangled in the net. He pushed harder and harder; the cords would not yield. Waite laid the ball off whatever the Spectrum uses as an anti-Darryl Dawkins device and through the hoop.

Naturally, he also made the foul.

"That's fate," Thompson said.

He said it with a smile, which seemed almost remarkable under the circumstances. Let it also be said the Hoya dressing room was the classiest place anyone could fathom -- given the level of frustration.

Many athletes hide from the press after such a defeat. John Wooden closed his dressing room after victories. Hard as the defeat was to swallow, the Hoyas answered the tough guestions. Over and over, to wave after wave of reporters.

"Playing so well does help," Thompson said. "But sports in this country is so win-oriented -- and I'm a part of it -- that it's hard to get gratification out of performance. You're grateful to the type people we have and the type of contest it was.

"But I'm disappointed as hell. I wanted to go to Indiana."

Nearby, Shelton raised his head from his hands just long enough to respond to questions. Floyd relived his game of games rather simply ("they were getting me the ball in great position"). And Spriggs said:

"You never go far enough unless you go all the way."

Whatever his inner feelings, Thompson was the large comfort at this wake. He patted the players, but did not seek out Shelton and Duren and thank them for being such important men to Georgetown the last four years, as others had.

Privately, Thompson had done that before the Maryland game.

"The next hour or two will be bad," he said. "But next week, when they cut the cards, divide up the money, whatever it is that's in that song, it'll be different. You don't count your money till the dealing's done, that's how it goes.

"Well, the money for these guys is glory. And there is a lot of it to be spread around. The assessment will be that there's been nothing to be ashamed of."

Earlier, Thompson had referred to coaching as "this crazy business," alluding to grown men trusting their livelihood to young men scarcely past their teens, if that. "We must learn to take the incredible highs and the incredible lows both in stride."

A tough business, he admitted.

"But fun."

The dealing had been over for more than an hour. As Thompson suggested, this was a game that had more than one winner.