At the end, they weren't freshmen anymore.

Georgetown's three freshmen guards, David Wingate, Michael Jackson and Horace Broadnax, matured during 40 minutes with Virginia in ways they won't immediately understand.

They started off with turnovers and fouls that changed into smooth jumpers and steals. Seven games into their college careers, they helped bring the Hoyas back from 13 points down to within five points of beating the No. 1 team in the nation last night at Capital Centre.

"These kind of go-either-way games can do that to you," said former Georgetown guard Eric Smith. "Just like Carolina. You learn."

"I think I have to be extremely proud, if not satisfied, with the effort we put up," Coach John Thompson said, "especially in the second half. It took us a little longer than we wanted to get into the game. I'd play them the same way next time. I'd just have a little more experience."

Wingate made only one of six shots in the first half. In the second, he led Georgetown's furious comeback by making four of eight shots. His 20-footer from deep in the left corner tied the game, 59-59, with 3:47 remaining.

Jackson's 12-footer with 16 seconds remaining was the Hoyas' last basket, and pulled them within 65-63.

The freshmen made mistakes. A charging foul against Broadnax with 42 seconds left prevented Georgetown from tying the game and enabled Virginia to make it 65-61.

But as a Virginia booster said, "I'm glad their freshmen don't already have the experience of this game."

That normal inexperience in the first half seemed to hurt Georgetown. Against a dizzying variety of defenses, Wingate, Jackson and Broadnax found it almost impossible at times to get the ball inside to 7-foot Patrick Ewing, even for just a touch.

Late in the game, with the experience of the first 20 minutes in hand, Ewing got the ball more.

"I thought my teammates did the best they could do about getting me the ball," Ewing said.

And Thompson, who uses December somewhat as an extended preseason, indicated he saw the maturation process at work.

"We showed a great deal of poise," Thompson said, "considering the players who were trying to get Patrick the ball were inexperienced."

And by the end, it was the Georgetown freshmen who were helping test Virginia's veterans.

"We rattled their poise a little bit," said junior guard Gene Smith. "Sure, a game like this helps. It was a tournament-style game."

The kind of game that makes "inexperience" an inappropriate word.

At the end, Virginia's Sampson said he hopes to play Georgetown again, soon, "perhaps at the Final Four. I know they'd like a rematch."

A rematch, in which three Georgetown freshmen will have plenty of experience to rely upon.