Georgetown's 62-48 victory over Providence tonight revealed beyond doubt the fatal flaw that will end the Hoyas' season short of a national championship. This team can't shoot. They'll steal your socks on defense. Once ahead, they'll make you crazy with a Slowball delay offense. But they are mediocre shooters at best, maybe 50-50 to throw one in the Grand Canyon from 15 feet.
Quick thinkers may read such an outlandish statement and immediately turn to the box score to see what percentage these poor fellows shot. There in black and white, the little numbers say Georgetown hit 60 percent. The second half, when they needed it most, the Hoyas made 17 of 19 shots. That's 89.5 percent, which is pretty good even if you're trying to hit the ground by dropping a bowling ball from the Washington Monument.
Of Disraeli's three kinds of lies--lies, damned lies and statistics--the most infuriating are numbers marshalled as concrete evidence. Insurance companies prove every day that you can get rich playing with numbers that no one else understands. So can you look at that 60 percent number, admire that 89.5 percent statistic, and come away convinced that Georgetown did a whole lot of good tonight.
Afterward, John Thompson knew better. Defeat sat heavily on him when he walked into an interview room. His team, ranked eighth in the country, had trailed miserable Providence by 10 points. After 19 minutes of work, Georgetown had scored only 17 points. The sun comes up, too, and so in time the Hoyas would beat Providence badly, once running off an 18-0 streak in little more than seven minutes.
"Almost had my bags packed," Thompson said later, cheered none at all on the occasion of his 200th victory in 10 seasons on the Hilltop.
Negative stuff: Georgetown missed its first six shots and committed four turnovers in the same time period . . . Eric Floyd, the team's only good shooter, put up a 17-footer uncontested; the ball traveled 15 feet, an air ball for the all-America. . . In the space of 26 farcical seconds, Floyd dribbled the ball straight out of bounds, Patrick Ewing committed goal tending by catching a shot at the rim, and Mike Hancock lost the ball by walking.
At which point, Thompson called a timeout.
The score was Providence 18, Georgetown 11, and the game was 14 minutes old. These are circumstances under which a volatile coach is forgiven an eruption, for it was clear that a severe case of sleepwalking was going on. Thompson chose a soft word or two, one is certain, for at a distance of 60 feet across the floor, a distance within danger when Thompson blows his top, not a word was heard by courtside auditors.
Fact is, the only change effected was that Floyd got undressed a bit. Fashion designers took careful note tonight of Floyd's outfit, for along with Freddie Brown and Ewing, he chose a gray T-shirt for under his traditional blue jersey. It was cold in Hartford Civic Center, the Hoyas would say, and so they chose winter dress.
Well, when Floyd was one for five from the field with a pair of air balls to his discredit, he took off that gray T-shirt. Floyd went five for six the second half, not because his shoulders were uninhibited again but because Georgetown found a game it can play, Slowball, about which more in a second.
The most dramatic wardrobe change was Brown's. He came to the party in his nice gray T-shirt, with matching knee braces and white socks pulled up to the bottom of the braces. Not only warm, but stylish was Freddie Brown, who quickly learned that haute couture does not translate into points on the scoreboard.
Nothing much was happening for the Hoyas until the freshman Anthony Jones made three straight steals near the end of the first half. With that good work, Georgetown reduced its 27-17 deficit to 29-24.
And in the locker room during the intermission, Freddie Brown peeled off his T-shirt.
The knee braces went.
The socks were rolled down.
There's a time for stylin', a time for playin', and it was time to get serious.
"I felt a little heavy," Brown said of his first-half costumery. "Maybe it was psychological, but at least when I took it off I felt like playing."
Positive stuff: Georgetown's six points in a minute and 19 seconds of the second half produced a 30-29 lead, giving the Hoyas the leverage to start a delay game that turned nearly every possession into a layup . . . Georgetown's defense was near perfect, too, allowing Providence only one field goal in a 12-minute period . . . In just under 12 minutes, the Hoyas outscored Providence, 31-4, with Freddie Brown going three for three from the field.
"We weren't in our game enough to play our regular game," Thompson said of the first-half ridiculousness. For one thing, a team with no outside shooters ought to get the ball inside to its 7-foot center. But Ewing took only five first-half shots, all from a distance, none the sort of thing that will cause Ralph Sampson sleepless nights of apprehension over meeting Ewing down the NCAA road somewhere.
Georgetown's best game is running. When it has to set up a half-court offense, it is ineffective because Floyd is the only shooter and Ewing hasn't yet learned to get open near the hoop when someone can get him the ball. On the run, however, Georgetown has so many wonderful athletes that it can fly by the lead-footed Providences.
Georgetown couldn't run tonight because Providence controlled the tempo early. Georgetown couldn't operate a half-court offense because its shooters were terrible. So once the Hoyas took a lead, here came Slowball with Providence's sluggos chasing desperately after Georgetown's gazelles.
"I feel very fortunate," Thompson said.