It had been as frustrating a game as the best college center east of the Mississippi and north of Ralph Sampson may ever experience. Georgetown mostly humbled John Pinone with the ploy scared animals and smart basketball teams use whenever possible: you can't shoot what you don't see. Sometimes, it was worse when the Hoyas let Pinone get the ball.
"Pretty smart defensively," he said of Pat Ewing, who stamped a stratospheric return-to-sender message to the ball on two of the nine shots Pinone tried. "When you get the ball, he takes a step back toward the hoop. So you can't lean in on him (and at worst draw a foul).
"What you've got to do is take it to him. You can't keep that gap, because he jumps so well straight up. You fake sometimes; you don't sometimes; you dribble sometimes. You use a lot of little things to keep him off balance, but I don't want to reveal my secrets."
There will be other times for Villanova's Pinone, at the Palestra in a week and possibly two more after the regular season. Zone defenses Monday night in Capital Centre diluted the first matchup, made it more a collision of reputations than Pinone's special offensive skills against Ewing's defensive instincts.
Pinone is both sympathetic toward Ewing and eager for a rematch. At 6 feet 8, he does not mind looking up to the 7-foot freshman; he refuses to back down.
"I went through the same thing my freshman season (two years ago) that he's experiencing now," Pinone said. "Everybody said: 'Watch Pinone. He pushes and shoves.' One coach called me a gorilla. But it's all died down with me. And it will for him, too.
"He's no more physical than normal. He had a reputation in high school for a trick elbow. Lotta people saw it. And a reputation for a temper. But I didn't see that tonight. It was fair. I took my shots; he took his."
And the Hoyas had the better Big East team this night, 72-56.
Like the Atlantic Coast Conference and most others, the Big East offers its Villanovas lots of chances to regain respect against its Georgetowns. So Monday was terrific for the Hoyas, as the victory snapped a three-game conference losing streak, but hardly terrifying for the 'Cats.
Ewing and Sleepy Floyd, who scored the 2,000th point of his Georgetwon career with a driving, five-foot scoop shot, were the obvious standouts; the most consistent one probably was Eric Smith, who scored 17 points, had three steals off the Hoya press and four assists while playing forward and lead guard at times. On defense, he helped keep the ball and Pinone apart.
You lose one, Pinone reasons, you learn. You get the Ewing Stare once after you foul him in the second half; you snicker back.
"I go right at everybody," he said.
Three images of Pinone and Ewing linger: once Pinone was at release-height in the air 12 feet from the basket on the base line, cocking his shooting wrist, before Ewing left the floor; Ewing still blocked the shot. Another time Ewing batted the ball the instant it left Pinone's hands. On a follow-up shot under the basket, the usually unflustered Pinone took too many steps before going back up.
If the lingering mental pictures of Ewing for most of the 11,553 fans are rafter-rattling rejects, the one that stays with Pinone is more subtle--and more hopeful for the Hoyas.
It came with 11 minutes left in the game, with Villanova's excellent freshman Ed Pinckney checking Ewing just to the right of the foul line. Ewing grabbed a pass, faked Pinckney off his feet, took one dribble and one step and sank a foul-hampered layup.
Having made an even bigger point about his offensive potential, Ewing also canned the foul shot.
"Defensively," Pinone said, "he's a lot like (former Syracuse center) Roosevelt Bouie. Bouie was a little better offensively, but who knows how good Ewing will be in three or four years. By the time he's a senior and his body catches up with his height, he could be something."
Because Pinone has played against both, there was the inevitable question about whether the shorter Ewing plays at the level of Sampson.
"Not yet," Pinone said. "Not quite yet. Offensively, Sampson's edge is pretty obvious. Defensively, he (Ewing) is a little more aggressive. Sampson can be pushed a little more; Ewing doesn't back down. Sampson's edge on defense is because of experience.
"Sampson is Sampson, you know?" He said that in the manner violinists say Stern is Stern. "Maybe Ewing will be Ewing when he's a junior."
Pinone was not eager to replay his game (three of nine from the field, 10 points, four rebounds, six turnovers in 35 foul-plagued minutes), but he did. The more he talked the more he seemed to be telling himself, as well as a knot of reporters, what was necessary next time:
"Can't back down. Can't be bothered by one blocked shot. That's what he wants, to swat the thing so hard and get the crowd so excited that you'll be intimidated. Gotta keep going after him, going after him. He's gonna block a few, 'cause he's so tall and got such great timing. But you've gotta keep coming after him.
"Persistence usually pays off."