Losing isn't dying, losing is learning how to win the next time. For Georgetown University's basketball team, today's 66-57 loss to Memphis State was one more lesson in a season-long seminar. John Thompson even smiled 10 minutes afterward when someone asked Patrick Ewing, "Will you be back to play at Georgetown next year?"
"Better be," Thompson said.
Ewing laughed. "Yes, I will be playing for Georgetown."
"What are we going to do?" Thompson said. "Trade him to Villanova?"
There is nothing wrong with Georgetown that a summer won't cure. Time will make Fred Brown's knee well. Before long, Thompson will recruit a strong forward and a big guard. A summer's respite from their sophomore troubles--along with work on their revealed weaknesses--ought to restore Bill Martin and Anthony Jones to brilliance.
Two years ago, when Thompson's veteran team lost its first-round NCAA game, the coach was disgusted. Last year, when that team came back with the addition of Ewing to finish second in the nation, he was mightily proud.
For a fellow who likes to win every day in every way, Thompson was a statesman in defeat.
"In perspective, this team did as much as last year's," Thompson said. "I told them that after the game. I definitely was proud of them. I told them a lot of my acting the way I did was to drive them to get every possible thing they could. And I think they did."
Even in defeat today, this crippled Georgetown team patched together an effort that spoke volumes of the players' integrity. Brown is a quarter the player of last season; Ralph Dalton can't jump twice effectively; David Wingate's bad back made him no factor today, and Jones and Martin again seemed strangely confused.
No surprise, then, that Memphis State built a 13-point lead when it stole the first four minutes of the second half.
Games are won in those precious minutes. This one was. Memphis expanded its 30-25 halftime lead to 38-25 as Georgetown failed to score on its first four possessions of the second half. Twice the Hoyas kicked away the ball, and twice they missed outside shots. Good teams take advantage of such wastrel tendencies, and Memphis State scored on four straight possessions--two of the baskets from long range, the last two at the rim.
It was 40-29 with about 14 minutes to play when Fred Brown again demonstrated how much this team missed him. If we go searching for reasons why Ewing seemed to have regressed offensively this season, the search must end at Fred Brown's knee. The little Hoya guards, none over 6-foot-1, cannot get the ball to Ewing the way the 6-5 Brown does. He showed that in the first half today when he leaned around a defender to snake a bounce pass to Ewing at the hoop.
Anyway, at 40-29, Brown again showed his value, this time as a defensive player of instinct and intelligence. Now in a man-to-man defense instead of the 2-1-2 zone in use earlier, Brown worked against Memphis State's second-best offensive player, Bobby Parks.
Brown made three straight steals. These were not Memphis errors. These were wonderful defensive plays in which Brown anticipated passes and, working on one leg, leaped to tip the ball away to a teammate.
With those three steals, Georgetown went on a 9-0 splurge that reduced the Memphis lead to two points with 11:48 to play.
Who can say why the Hoyas could get no closer?
Memphis is, to quote Thompson, "a very outstanding team." Georgetown isn't. It has too many ball-handling weaknesses to control a game under pressure. Except for Ewing, it has no strongman help inside (Keith Lee and Derrick Phillips, 6-10 and 6-9, had 26 rebounds to Georgetown's 11-man total of 22).
Who knows? Maybe the frenetic pace of the rally from 13 down exacted an emotional as well as physical toll that left the Hoyas unable to make the game-turning play.
Gene Smith, a whirlwind of defensive frenzy for the Hoyas, thought his team would win. With about four minutes left, Jones made a deflection at midcourt, chased down the rolling ball near the Georgetown basket and tipped it back to Smith, who was fouled on a layup attempt. His free throw brought Georgetown within two points (53-51) for the first time since midway through the first half.
"I thought we definitely had the momentum right there," Smith said later. "That was the turning point, I thought."
Nope. That came later. It was Memphis State, 55-53, with just over two minutes to go.
And here came Memphis State's Bobby Parks, high-tailing it on the dribble down the lane, bringing the ball toward Patrick Ewing. Here was a big play. If Ewing wins this confrontation, it might be a tie game with two minutes left. But Ewing was too far from the hoop, maybe 12 feet out. And Parks, on the drive, cleverly stepped around Ewing (cautious, maybe, with four fouls) and scored the uncontested layup for a four-point lead.
Only 77 seconds later, Memphis State's lead was a conclusive 61-53. In that time, needing good shots, Georgetown missed a 17-footer by Horace Broadnax, a 10-footer by Michael Jackson and an 18-footer from the corner by Jones.
In that time, you want the ball at the rim. You want it in Patrick Ewing's hands. You don't win under pressure with outside shooting. Next year, guaranteed, Ewing will win games by himself at the end. And when he does, someone ought to look back at March 20, 1983, when a Georgetown team that might have lost by 20 learned that it can win if it keeps trying.
"This game was indicative of our whole season," Thompson said. "We were straining to get it done. It's been like a roller coaster all season."
"We showed determination," said Fred Brown. "We're going to be good." He limped away.