It was fretful and frightening, but for the Georgetown Hoyas, it was also victory.
The Hoyas managed to escape pressing Alcorn State tonight, 68-63, in an NCAA Midwest Regional before 12,745 at Freedom Hall.
"This was the kind of ballgame," said Georgetown Coach John Thompson, perspiring in the press room after his wagons had circled 'round and 'round to save a victory, "that you're glad as hell when it's over."
So now Georgetown (22-9) will play Memphis State (22-7) here Sunday at 1 p.m. A victory in that game would send the Hoyas to the Midwest Regional semifinals next Friday in Kansas City.
And Alcorn State (22-10), a team short of height (no starter taller than 6-foot-8), but certainly not of verve, goes back to Lorman, Miss., eliminated, but proud. "I assure you we will be back," said Alcorn State Coach Davey Whitney.
The Hoyas were bothered throughout the game by Alcorn State's full court press, which trapped Georgetown players in the corners of the back court, and caused Georgetown to commit 21 turnovers, six more than Alcorn State.
Consequently, the Hoyas allowed a 14-point lead, 32-18, to dissolve entirely over the last three minutes of the first half. That's when they became completely harried by the Alcorn State press, when they stopped scoring off the transition and when they endured the standard problems with their half-court offense.
Then, Georgetown reconstructed the lead to 58-46 with nine minutes to play. That's when the Hoyas started to get the ball inside Alcorn State's man-to-man defense, to 7-foot center Patrick Ewing (19 points, eight of 11 from the field). Ewing responded with two marvelous inside baskets and five straight points, creating this 12-point lead.
"That turned the game around," said Whitney.
For the entire game, the Braves rotated three heavy-handed players to guard Ewing, all of whom spent their time pulling and tugging and fouling him.
And in the end, the Hoyas had to hold onto their blue and gray britches, spending the last seven minutes in a mildly effective spread offense.
With freshman guards Michael Jackson (10 points) and Horace Broadnax in foul trouble, the Hoyas turned over a testy situation to the vets: Ewing, forwards Anthony Jones (12 points off the bench) and Bill Martin (10 points) and guards Gene Smith and Fred Brown. Brown played for the first time in five weeks, and his strained right knee held up long enough for him to score four points in 15 minutes.
Although Alcorn State rallied to within 60-56 with 6:42 left, the Braves got no closer. "We just couldn't get into our offense," said Whitney.
That's because the Hoyas' 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone defenses deprived the Braves, who compete in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, of any passes inside the key. So Alcorn State (39 percent field goal shooting) had to keep shooting from the outside. Sometimes, guard Michael Phelps (24 points, seven of 15) and forward Aaron Brandon (12 points, six of 17) made these outside shots.
Most often, though, they didn't. Once again, it was a Georgetown victory earned by the defense.
"They (Georgetown) have taller players than we're used to playing against. I think it was the toughest defense we've played against this year," said Eddie Archie, the Alcorn State guard known as "The Little Magician." Though he scored only four points, it was Archie's history of breaking the press with his whippet-like speed that caused Georgetown not to press for much of the game.
Meanwhile, the Hoyas continued to be bothered by opposing full court presses, as they were against Boston College, Pittsburgh and the rest.
"They were so quick on the press, very tough. But we had to face it," said Jones, who helped the Georgetown reserves outscore the Alcorn State reserves, 22-7.
Georgetown freshman forward David Wingate, who strained muscles in his lower back during Thursday's practice, played only 19 minutes, missed all six shots from the field and scored five points. "I don't know how much was his back, how much was his mind," said Thompson.
The final three minutes of the first half, when the Hoyas' 14-point lead vanished, provided tonight's version of Little Big Horn. The Braves continued their full court press and Brown, Wingate and Ewing all committed turnovers.
Simultaneously, Alcorn State's Phelps and Brandon started hitting from afar, beyond the Georgetown zone. Alcorn proceeded to score 10 straight points over 46 seconds in a 16-2 streak that ended with a 34-34 tie with 25 seconds left in the half.
But the Hoyas revived, then survived in the second half. In doing so, they became the third of Thompson's seven NCAA tournament teams to make it past the first round.
"I'm glad this one is over," Thompson said. "I really am."
In the second game, Iowa defeated Utah State, 64-59, as guard Bob Hansen scored 24 points and center Greg Stokes had 17.
Iowa (20-9) will play Missouri (26-7) here Sunday at 3:30 p.m. and the winner will advance to the Midwest Regional semifinals.
Though Iowa shot just 28 percent from the field in the first half (10 for 36), the Hawkeyes trailed just 37-30. Utah State (20-9) followed the lead of center Greg Grant, who scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds.
Iowa made 53 percent of its shots in the second half (36 percent overall) and simply took control over the last 12 minutes.
Aware that this was the first game this season in which his team had shot less than 40 percent from the field, Iowa Coach Lute Olson said, "They say that the team that shoots the best will win. I guess you can throw that theory out."