Images and thoughts linger:

Eric Floyd missing a wild drive midway through the second half that would have given Georgetown a 49-43 lead, perhaps just enough of an edge to convice North Carolina it was destined to fall agonizingly short of the NCAA basketball title once more.

By that time, Pat Ewing, Bill Russel with a jump shot, had come very close to intimidating nearly every Tar Heel on and off the court except James Worthy. Usually confident shooters, players familiar with intense pressure, were flustered to the point of suddenly changing basic techniques that had carried them to the highest plateau of their sport.

Nobody gets layups on Ewing, or a natural jump shot when that internal fire is stoked and he seems to cover a quarter of the court by himself. Watching Patrick grow is going to be fascinating, for he has come so far so quickly, from a defensive swatter who had trouble catching the ball in high school all-star games a year ago to a man with finesse and touch inside.

"A man," an awed Villanova Coach Rollie Masimino had said of Worthy.

Ewing is two years younger, three years younger, three inches taller and just as mean.

Much better than lucky in a game most everone who saw it said was as fine as any NCAA final in a generation, Georgetown let Carolina slip off the ropes and come back for the knockout, 63-62. And started asking itself the day after:

Should John Thompson have called time during the final 14 chaotic, heart-thumping seconds that Hoyas always regard as among the most exasperating of their lives?

No.

Had Thompson or the game's ultimate tragic figure, Fred Brown, stopped the game and the team had a chance to regroup, what would they have wanted?

The ball in either Eric Floyd's or Ewing's hands for the last shot, of course. But something even more important--Worthy away from the basket. Incredibly they got it; they would not have by stopping the clock and giving the Heels a chance to think.

By not stopping, by pushing the ball upcourt as quickly as possible, by staying poised at the one moment for which they have strived all their lives to reach, the Hoyas could have embarrassed Carolina. Worthy started a chain reaction that could have, perhaps should have, been a disaster.

Gambling, he dashed to intercept a pass and failed. He was 45 feet from the basket, helpless, unable to keep Ewing from either catching the ball low or stuffing a missed shot back back in. To their credit, the Heels were not passive. They jumped and waved, went after Brown near midcourt.

Somebody had to be open fairly close to the hoop. Worthy took himself out of the play, so it was five Hoyas against four Heels. Who wouldn't want that situation with maybe eight seconds left?

Brown simply mistook Worthy for a teammate, Eric Smith. Handed him the ball--and the championship.

Life owes you one, Fred.

What Thompson had better not do is replay this special season too long, relax and assume his team will maintain an extraordinary level of play on its own, without a transfusion of fresh, rich blood.

One of today's surprises was how many serious basketball followers do not believe the Hoyas will return to the final four during the Ewing years, unless Professor Thompson is able to replace two blends that made his team chemistry unique.

Ralph Sampson made the final four just once in three years. With him, Virginia has not won an Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

"People compare Ewing with Russel," Dean Smith said. "Sampson will be compared to Sampson. Look at what Ewing did as a freshman, got his team to the final two. Sampson's team won the NIT his freshman year. So Ewing did more for his team. But no one that size (7-4) runs, jumps and shoots the way Sampson does."

Smith has a genuine fear of Sampson. That is why he cannot understand the fuss over his trying to draw Sampson away from the basket in the ACC finals with a freeze. In time, he may have a similar regard for Ewing.

The two Georgetown Erics, Floyd and Smith, were vital for more than numbers. The maturity gained from four years of stressful games, from being freakish play away from the final four two years ago, is not going to be quickly transferred to an Anthony Jones or Billy Martin.

What of Carolina?

"This was the only year it (losing the NCAA title) would have bothered me," Smith said, "in that we had the best basketball team, I thought. We were ranked No. 1 in the country in preseason and postseason. Everybody shot at us--and I'm not sure we were the best team (in the title game).

"We were the lucky team."

We assume Worthy will turn pro, having given the sort of Magic Johnson-Isiah Thomas performance that would seem to make a senior season anticlimactic. Carolina players almost never leave early, however, and although Smith would seem to give his blessing, Worthy's father is said to want him to get his degree on time.

To everyone except the most loyal Hoya, Monday's was sporting theater to be savored. Familiar stars (Worthy and Floyd) shone; new ones (Ewing and Michael Jordan) ascended. Smith was vindicated, Thompson understood more nationally. hat was it a Louisville player had said about Carolina before the final:

"It's their time".