Second-ranked Georgetown rediscovered patience on offense tonight in an 87-73 Big East Conference victory over Providence.

The final score hardly was indicative of the Hoyas' superiority. They led by 25 points early in the second half, at which point they were shooting 71 percent. The Hoyas (23-2, 10-2 in the Big East) finished at 64.3 percent, their second-best effort this season.

Forward Reggie Williams, the game's leading scorer with 20 points, made his first 10 shots, and guard David Wingate (16 points) all eight of his. Center Patrick Ewing (16 points, seven rebounds) was seven for 10. Thus, those three made 25 of 29 shots.

The degree of difficulty on most of those shots was very low, since Georgetown was getting open jumpers in its half-court game or layups and dunks on its fast break. A key number: Georgetown had 26 assists on 36 baskets. Guard Michael Jackson had 10 and every other starter at least two.

"Our defense seemed to be nothing," Providence Coach Joe Mullaney said. "Usually we give people a little trouble. They scored at will. They look in at Patrick. If you slough off, they hit the open man, and he buries the jumper."

Thompson has stressed patience on offense since the Hoyas started sluggishly and struggled to a 57-50 victory over Villanova Monday. "We had to shoot better," he said. "We had to improve the transition from a running game to a patient half-court game. Sometimes when you run, it forces you to rush your shots when you go to the half-court game."

That was not the case tonight. In its first 28 possessions, Georgetown scored 45 points and led by 18 with 2:20 left in the half. Georgetown failed to score on only two possessions in which it got a shot in that span.

Mullaney was duly impressed and, even though St. John's is undefeated in Big East play, he said, "I think Georgetown is the best team in the league, myself."

While Georgetown was coming into the February form for which it is noted (Thompson: "The fast break is falling into place. Defensively, we're now starting to play and react better"), Providence (9-17, 2-12) played over its head.

Part of that was because of Thompson's reluctance to run up the score on his former college coach, who two weeks ago announced he was resigning. Led by freshman guard Matt Palazzi's 18 points, Providence shot 53.6 percent, a season high against the national leader in opponents' field-goal percentage.

But, in the 17 minutes when Georgetown took a 15-14 advantage to 59-34, the Hoyas used their arsenal of presses and half-court traps, getting turnovers and forcing the Friars to shoot from out of their range. At this time, it appeared Georgetown might challenge its 41-point victory over the Friars earlier this season, a conference record for margin of victory.

But Thompson let up, substituting freely and going with a basic get-the-game-over strategy. He was not displeased with the final score. "There is a normal tendency to relax a little bit," he said. "And I didn't want to run up the score on him, either."

Thompson knew he could name the final margin. "Joe doesn't have the people we have," he said. "He'd have to be Houdini to match the people we have. He's one of the purists. He coached basketball when it was fun. Now, it's entertainment. You helped make it that way, along with me."

With 12,150 at Providence Civic Center, this game was sold out. Each team started with virtuoso offenses, scoring on each possession before the first television timeout.

Georgetown was helped greatly by four offensive rebounds, two by Wingate and one each by Ewing and Billy Martin. But it was only 11-10, Georgetown, at that point, because Providence was patient against Georgetown's man-to-man defense and made five of its first six shots.

Then, with a 15-14 lead, Thompson got his team going with the defensive strategy and intensity that brought them a national championship last season. Using a full-court press and a variety of half-court zones and traps, the Hoyas scored 14 straight points.

Ewing started the streak with an eight-foot turnaround jumper from the base line. Against Georgetown's 1-3-1 zone, center Ray Knight, a former Hoya, launched an air ball from 17 feet, and Martin converted it into a 16-foot pull-up jumper off a pass from Horace Broadnax.

In its next six possessions, Providence missed four shots -- three from outside 20 feet -- and had two turnovers. When Georgetown couldn't get the fast-break points, it settled into its offense.

As the zone sagged on Ewing, he passed out to an open Jackson near the top of the key for a basket that made it 21-14. Then, freshman Perry McDonald scored on a layup, Wingate on a fast-break dunk and McDonald on a layup on a nice feed from Wingate in the corner. When Wingate made an 18-foot jumper from the right side, it was 29-14.

The Hoyas' lead reached 18 points on four occasions the rest of the half and could have been more had they not faltered on three fast breaks in four possessions late in the half. From a 37-16 halftime lead, Georgetown quickly sprang to 59-34, getting three successive fast-break baskets, the last two by Williams.

So, all that was left was for 17 minutes of garbage time to expire, and Thompson to utter his usual words for the month: "In February, you have to be ready to play. Those people who understand what college basketball is all about play now."