Georgetown Coach John Thompson watched 40 minutes of Hoyas horrors here tonight in the first round of the NCAA tournament against upstart James Madison. Then he put the 61-55 upset in perspective: a Hoya victory tonight would have been in injustice.
Madison, playing its first NCAA Division I tournament game, stayed close with uncanny outside shooting, took advantage of poor offensive execution by Georgetown and then made the free throws at the end that ended Georgetown's season at 20-12.
"It would have been an injustice if by some act of fate, we would have been lucky enough to win," Thompson said. "No doubt in my mind, the better team won tonight."
Thompson was looking for no excuses, not even a pulled muscle in Sleepy Floyd's left leg that hampered him early. Floyd finished with 22 points, breaking the Hoyas' all-time career scoring record in the process. But he was as guilty as the rest of his teammates of sloppy offense, missed free throws and turnovers.
Maybe the Hoyas were looking past Madison, from Harrisonburg Va., 130 miles southwest of Washington, to a Saturday second-round game here against Notre Dame. The Hoyas seemed to be waiting for these Dukes (21-8) to blow it at the end.
JMU was not, however. "We felt all along we were as good as Georgetown," said Coach Lou Campanelli, "so it's not as big an upset as some people might think."
JMU, the ECAC South champion, went into this game at the Providence Civic Center with a small, quick team -- very similar to Georgetown's. The Dukes were able to thwart the Hoyas with a tightly packed 2-3 zone defense much of the game and with balanced scoring. The Dukes shot 54 percent and held the Hoyas to 44 percent, 1 percent lower than JMU allowed on the average during the season.
No, Hoya played especially well. Only Floyd scored in double figures, but he committed six turnovers and took just one of his signature jump shots in the final 12 minutes. That gave him little reason to celebrate surpassing Derrick Jackson as GU's leading all-time scorer, a feat he accomplished in 18 fewer games.
Georgetown had the opportunity to avoid this upset. But the Hoyas couldn't execute toward the end, turning the ball over (16 total in a slow-paced game), missing foul shots and seemingly easy baskets.
The Hoyas led, 37-36. but Fred Brown and Mike Frazier each missed two free throws. They committed two more turnovers and had a shot blocked, giving JMU a nine-point run and a 45-39 lead, highlighted by 6-6 junior forward Linton Townes' three-point play following a Floyd turnover.
"If we had gone up by five or six," Thompson said, "we could have controlled the tempo and the clock the way they did."
JMU committed turnovers on its next five possessions, yet Georgetown could trim only two points off the lead, on a pair of free throws by Floyd. When center Dan Ruland dropped in two free throws with 4:34 to play, JMU led, 47-41.
Ikn a four-minute span down to the five-minute mark, the Hoyas went six possessions without scoring, even though many of the shots they missed were from close-in.
"We caused enough turnovers, but gave the ball right back," Thompson said.
Georgetown would get within four points just once more, following a Hancock layup. But Townes, who scored 14 of his team-high 19 points in the second half, answered that basket. And, when Floyd missed a jumper and Steve Blackmon from Eastern High rebounded to started a JMU play that culminated in two Townes free throws, it was 51-43 with 2:51 to play.
At that point Georgetown was forced to foul. But JMU, refusing to yield to the pressure, made seven of its final eight free throws to hold off the Hoyas. JMU made 17 of its 20 free throws.
"Free throws," said Frazier, shaking his head. "That's what broke our backs."
"We were hoping they would crack toward the end," said a dejected Floyd, "this being their first NCAA appearance. It's my biggest disappointment."
So while the Hoyas end the season on a disappointing note, in the building where they began their trek to the East Regional final last year, the pesky Dukes move on with a team of what Campanelli describes as "complementary players."
"Four of the five starters, the only major college offer they received was from James Madison," Campanelli said. "We got Dave Dupont and Charles Fisher in April when their high school coaches couldn't find them a place to play. It's hard to put your finger on why they didn't wilt. They're just a bunch of gutty kids."
The Duke with the most grit is probably senior Blackmon, who Campanelli calls the "best 6-foot-4 power forward in the league."
Said Blackmon: "My mom got to see me play on television and it was so exciting for me, being from D.C., beating Georgetown in the Ncaa. It's hard to put into words, right now.
Or, as Campanelli said, "I've never addressed a press gathering this large before. Eight years ago, it would be the school newspaper and the local reporter. What you saw was a bunch that didn't have great size or a lot of speed do what the coach wants them to do."
And the way Georgetown played tonight, justice prevailed.