As pretty as it gets, yet as ugly as you want to see it, they played some angry, poetic basketball at Capital Centre last night. St. John's beat Georgetown, 75-69, and you'd like to go away humming a sweet hymn in praise of Chris Mullin, the sophomore left-hander with an old pro's cool. He had 25 points, the killing two scored gracefully over Patrick Ewing floating in suborbital flight.
You'd like to go home smiling, as you have from so many Georgetown games, but this night you don't.
You'd like to remember the moment in the last five minutes when Mullin crossed the lane in a hurry. By the free throw line, Mullin started up for his tidy jumper that all night had shunted aside any momentum Georgetown built.
But Mullin didn't wait to get to the top of his jump. He saw Ewing rising. So Mullin put up kind of a half-jumper, an easy thing to do only if the gods of ball have been generous to you.
The ball rose over Ewing and fell into Georgetown's heart. The shot gave St. John's a 63-56 lead. The game was over, for Mullin's floating jumper told the 17,166 customers that even in hostile territory the Redmen would not lose this one--Georgetown would have to win it with heroic work, and right now the Hoyas have too few heroes.
Oh, how nice to go home thinking of basketball. To think the Hoyas have such ball-handling problems they score only fitfully from a set offense. To think they don't have the quick strength to handle the very best teams under the boards. To think they have enough, with Ewing growing on offense and with a full-court press that spreads panic, to win any game anywhere.
Yes, how nice to remember the pretty things. To remember Mullin's work under pressure. To see again St. John's absolute refusal to come apart against that full-court press. To see the Redmen beat Georgetown at its strength, the transition game.
How sad, instead, to remember this night as a vigil rewarded with seeing what we least wanted to see.
We waited for something ugly because, practically, it was guaranteed to happen. Last month, St. John's and Georgetown traded punches in the Redmen's 76-67 victory. Inflammatory words since raised temperatures from New York to Washington. A St. John's player said the way to play Georgetown is to get Ewing into a fight so he'll be kicked out.
Real nice, huh?
And GU Coach John Thompson said if things don't get better there's going to be a riot someday. He implied permission for his players to go into the stands if ugly signs rise.
Well, it is nice to report there was no riot last night. That only one punch was thrown, only one player ejected. There was no accurate count of obscenities muttered, shouted and screamed, but people with good ears said it was about what you hear from blue-haired ladies at rasslin' matches.
Read that last paragraph for irony, please. It's been a while since this fan left a game feeling so sad.
I root for Patrick Ewing. He is a talent we won't see here again. What John Thompson teaches his players is the stuff they need--the iron will, the discipline--to handle the full-court press that life puts on a guy. I remember yet the pure beauty of so many Thompson teams.
There is too much anger now. Idiots hold up signs denigrating Ewing's intelligence. There is no defense of that. Even a mild-mannered columnist screamed at two idiots last night, two lummoxes screaming insults at St. John's Kevin Williams. Sometimes you have to scream, and that's what Thompson has done this week, too. He hurts for Ewing, and that is good, but it is melancholy to hear Thompson speak of riot and condone missions into the seats.
A sociology professor at the University of California, Harry Edwards, was the godfather of the black athletes' angry boycott in the 1968 Olympics. Gary Pomerantz of The Washington Post asked Edwards how Ewing should handle the cruel signs.
"If I were Patrick Ewing," Edwards said, "I would walk up to the man holding the sign, shake his hand, ask him how his family is, say, 'Yes, I have some problems, but the way I understand it, we all have problems.' "
Officials called every possible foul last night. Neither team profited, but neither did the whistles accomplish the peace that the coaches--Thompson and St. John's Lou Carnesecca--could guarantee by ordering their players to avoid fights at any cost.
The game's two incidents came early in the second half. St. John's Billy Goodwin was ejected after hitting David Wingate. The other involved no punches, but again all players rushed onto the court.
How sad. How very sad that Carnesecca didn't tell his guard, Williams, to apologize for his remarks of last month. After Williams provoked a fight with Ewing then, Williams said such provocation is the way to play Georgetown: get Ewing thrown out. Not a word was heard from Carnesecca.
Before last night's game ended, Williams stood at center court and traded obscenities with a ticket-buying ignoramus. "Meet me right there after the game," Williams shouted later, challenging two other idiots.
Is this college basketball? Not the kind anyone should be proud of.