When tourists approached the Tennessee State players outside their hotel here this afternoon and asked, "What do you guys think you can do with Georgetown?" they responded firmly, "Upset them."
Well, not quite. It was a major upset that the Tigers led in the second half, seeing as no other Georgetown opponent has been able to make that claim this season.
But the Hoyas' defensive pressure helped turn a two-point deficit into a 20-point lead, and top-ranked Georgetown went on to beat Tennessee State, 77-64, tonight in the Copa Navidad tournament at Roberto Clemente Coliseum.
The victory was Georgetown's 10th without a loss this season and its 21st straight, dating to last season. But it left Coach John Thompson fuming.
"I thought we played terribly," Thompson said afterward. Asked if there was an area he was particularly unhappy with, Thompson said, "There were too many areas I was displeased with to single out one."
The player who turned the game around for Georgetown, as is often the case, was all-America center Patrick Ewing. He led the Hoyas with 21 points, on eight-of-10 shooting from the field, and had several great defensive plays when the score was close.
Part of the reason for Tennessee State's success, as Thompson put it, was, "They didn't care who we were. They changed defenses very well. Eddie did a hell of a job."
The Eddie he was referring to was Tennessee State Coach Eddie Meyers, who was Thompson's assistant two years ago. Meyers had his team use three defenses the first half and three other ones the second half.
At halftime, when his Tigers trailed by only 37-32, Meyers said he told his players, "I know John is over there (in the Hoyas' locker room) calling me everything in the book because he figured I stole his stuff. I had to. I had to use everything he taught me tonight."
Tennessee State (3-8) was led by Alvin Martin, a guard from the District of Columbia's Coolidge High School, and forward Anthony Mason, who each scored 15 points. The Tigers, whose tallest starter was 6 feet 8, outrebounded Georgetown, 41-36, and held Ewing -- who has averaged 10 rebounds per game -- to three.
One reason not much was expected from Tennessee State was that it just lost Coach Ed Martin, who abruptly resigned after a dispute with school administrators over financial issues. Meyers, who also coached at Langley Junior High School in Washington, has begun major changes although he has had the team only four days.
But, as Alvin Martin said, "Just playing Georgetown kept us enthused. We were aware of what was going on the entire game."
At the start, it appeared Georgetown would coast to another victory. Senior forward Billy Martin, who finished with 19 points, scored 13 straight to lead the Hoyas to an 18-8 lead.
But the Tigers, who shot 50 percent, got good play from Alvin Martin, forward Jose Crisp (nine rebounds, 12 points) and another District product, Wesley Milam, who is from Spingarn High (12 points).
Alvin Martin's steal and layup gave the Tigers a 40-39 lead two minutes into the second half. A dunk by Crisp tied the score at 44 three minutes later.
But that's when Ewing took over. Tennessee State had a three-on-one break with a chance to reclaim the lead, but center Anthony Gaines (zero for seven from the field) missed a layup against the only Hoya back on defense -- Ewing.
Ewing hustled back to the offensive end and wound up with two free throws for a 47-44 Georgetown lead with 14 minutes left.
On the Tigers' next possession, Ewing went into the open court to block Alvin Martin's jumper. Ewing caught the blocked shot, then started a break that led to David Wingate's jumper for a five-point lead.
The Tigers got another break, two on one, but missed two layups with Ewing hovering near the basket. Georgetown got two free throws from Wingate for a 51-44 lead with 13 minutes left.
Shortly afterward, Perry McDonald got loose for a couple of steals and easy transition baskets for several of his 15 points.
Thompson did away with a longstanding rule and brought McDonald to the postgame press conference. He usually does not let freshmen speak to the press until January.
"That ought to show you that I must be mad at some upperclassmen," Thompson said.