Then Georgetown freshman center Patrick Ewing was introduced before the Hoyas' game against Niagara tonight, he was booed loudly for what the fans felt was overly aggressive play Tuesday night against Columbia.
But in the next 40 minutes, Ewing put on a dazzling performance that turned the boos to prolonged cheers from the crowd of 6,294. Led by Ewing's 20 points, 13 rebounds and six blocked shots--all game highs--Georgetown won the Rochester Classic and its ninth straight game with a 77-49 victory over Niagara at the War Memorial.
Georgetown's defense again broke open a close game, as Ewing intimidated the Purple Eagles with clean, aggressive defense. As a result, Ewing won the tournament's most valuable player award. The 17th-ranked Hoyas (10-2) also got 16 points from all-America guard Eric Floyd. Niagara (5-3) was led by Mike Phillips' 16 points.
Columbia won the consolation game in an upset over Utah, 64-52.
But all anyone was talking about afterward was Ewing. One play in particular will be talked about for a long time--or at least until he does something better.
With a little more than 12 minutes remaining and Georgetown in command, 59-41, Floyd stood about 20 feet from the basket, looking for someone to pass to. But the Purple Eagles, who played relatively good defense all night, had every Hoya covered.
Floyd spotted Ewing moving toward the basket, and threw a pass that looked as if it would float over the backboard and out of bounds.
But Ewing jumped and met the ball a foot above the basket. With one smooth motion, he gently guided the ball into the net.
"I don't know how he did it," Smith said. "I thought the ball was going to hit the top of the backboard and bounce out long. All of a sudden he was there, and zoooooom. It was in!"
One Niagara defender, 6-foot-9 center Mike Howse, still seemed surprised 15 minutes after the game: "I've never, ever seen anything like it . . . nothing that could even compare. The agility was amazing. You couldn't do anything but just watch."
But Floyd wasn't as surprised: "I know he has the ability to come down with whatever pass we put up there. I knew he'd get to it."
As Georgetown Coach John Thompson pointed out, while Ewing's offense was superb, his defense is what took Niagara (5-4) out of its game early in the second half.
The Hoyas again used pressing, team defense to turn a 17-16 deficit at 9:29 of the first half into a 38-29 halftime lead.
The Eagles came within 46-39 on Howse's layup. But he missed the subsequent layup and Georgetown scored.
In one sequence, Ewing blocked an Eagle layup. Niagara got the loose ball back. Howse shot again. Ewing blocked it. Another Eagle shot. Ewing blocked that one, too.
"It was the blocked shots more than anything else that beat us," Howse said. "I changed a couple of my shots, just knowing he was there. Sometimes, we shot the ball and he wasn't there, then all of a sudden, he was there."
Ewing had been criticized by the fans and the local media for playing too roughly against a smaller, less-talented Columbia team in Georgetown's Tuesday night victory.
"You always hope a person can turn boos to cheers with a good performance, but it was nothing we talked about specifically or concentrated on," Thompson said. "I'm glad it turned out this way.
"I talk to Patrick about his temper and his method of retaliation, and he's more aware of it than anybody. He hasn't yet learned how to retaliate. When somebody is pushing or shoving him inside, he'll throw an elbow instead of throwing a little hip. It might be an act that is unsportsmanlike, but Patrick is not that kind of person.
"As far as that alley-oop play, I've known all along that Patrick has the ability, the sheer athletic ability and court presence, to dominate games. But I saw him do some things in high school which he hasn't done in college yet. I wasn't surprised at all."