For those who thought Georgetown had turned into an unbeatable juggernaut, Wednesday's harrowing 62-60 victory here over Seton Hall was a proper tonic.
After winning a dozen straight games by an average margin of 22 points, the Hoyas were due to show their weaknesses.
"Let's get dressed and get out of here," Coach John Thompson said he told his players after the game. "The team that played the best tonight didn't win the game."
Of late, the Hoyas, ranked seventh, have been a deep, quick and potentially terrifying opponent. Few teams have a significantly better shot blocker than Pat Ewing, who already is just three erasures short of a school season record. Few teams can send so many waves of lightning, leaping ballhawks at a jittery opponent. Eric Floyd, Eric Smith, Fred Brown, Anthony Jones, Bill Martin and Mike Hancock--all of whom dunk to the elbows--seem in a private war to see who can make the most electrifying steal and dunk.
Also, there's almost no type of lineup--huge, fast, experienced, flashy or muscular--that Thompson can't assemble.
Despite this, the Hoyas have flaws and most showed against Seton Hall.
First, against a packed 2-3 zone like Seton Hall's, Georgetown is forced to shoot outside. On a night when Floyd is only eight for 21, that means trouble.
The Hoyas try to penetrate a zone by passing to Ewing, but that did little good Wednesday night. Against Seton Hall, he had problems with his moves in the lane and was not involved much in the offense. That should change; he's a fluid, coachable athlete.
Another problem is Ewing's continuing foul trouble and, relatedly, his penchant for failing to disguise his emotions. Ewing had his third foul after nine minutes and played most of the game under wraps.
Also, whatever Floyd does seems contageous. If he hits jumpers, then so do others. But if he is tight, the Hoyas can become a bricklayers' convention.
Finally, against a packed zone, the Hoyas' own quickness and acrobatics seem to confound them; they force action in the lane, resulting in hurried turnovers or forced shots.
The Hoyas set up more than 60 times in their half-court offense against Seton Hall, yet produced only 14 baskets. Offensive rebounds and transition baskets--and foul shots stemming from both--were the Hoyas' staple.
Georgetown was lucky Seton Hall was without its best rebounder, forward Mike Ingram. Even the winning basket--Floyd's tie-breaking 15-foot jumper with 1:01 to play--came after Fred Brown rebounded Floyd's miss and kicked the ball out for an opportunity jumper.
The Hoyas' marvelous defense had trouble unnerving Seton Hall's quality back court of Danny Callandrillo and 6-foot-9 guard Howard (Smooth) McNeil, the Pirates' tallest player. Seton Hall made only 18 turnovers. When an opponent isn't rattled by hurryin' Hoyas, and can play a sedate, half-court game, Georgetown can be beaten.
Still, Georgetown may have learned here that finally there is enough talent, depth and poise to escape the kind of unraveling hairbreadth loses that have bedeviled so many of Thompson's Hoya teams. Throughout his first nine seasons, even Thompson's best teams always had a scrappy, make-do aspect--usually at center.
On a bad night, they could lose to decent, but limited teams that couldn't dream of joining the top 10. Now, on their worst night, the Hoyas can beat a solid 9-3 Big East team in its own gym. In fact, it was the Hoyas' first, and one of only three, visits to a college campus arena this season.
"We came through wind, hail, sleet and storm and we're lucky as hell. If ever there was a day for us to be beaten, this was it," said Thompson. "But I'll say one thing. If we can play that poorly and still win, then we can't be the worst team in America."
What Thompson meant, of course, was that, for the first time, the Hoyas were finally one of the very best.