Nobody could remember seeing John Thompson so relieved. He emerged from the locker room, his team's season having been extended, almost miraculously, and said with a smile, "Finding a way to win; that's what champions are all about."
Georgetown found the way here today in the Civic Center when it didn't seem possible. Trailing by four points in the second half, with Patrick Ewing sitting on the bench with four fouls, the Hoyas called on every resource available and left this NCAA East Regional final with a 60-54 victory over Georgia Tech.
"The Heart-Attack Hoyas are back," said Thompson, whose heart certainly will withstand Georgetown's third trip to the Final Four in four years. Georgetown, as a result of this victory, advances to Lexington, Ky., where the Hoyas will face the winner of Sunday's West Regional final between St. John's and North Carolina State.
Ewing led Georgetown with 14 points, but had only one rebound in the second half. He was full of praise for reserve Ralph Dalton, who had six rebounds and hit all four of his foul shots down the stretch, and reserve guard Horace Broadnax, who scored nine points.
Georgia Tech (27-8) still had a chance to score the upset until 14 seconds were left, when Dalton's two free throws put Georgetown ahead, 58-54. "I knew I had to make those, or not go back to the bench," Dalton said.
Then Mark Price ended one of the most painful days of his career -- three-for-16 shooting from the field -- by badly missing a shot that Broadnax converted into a game-ending dunk, the first dunk he even attempted in a game since high school.
And the top-ranked Hoyas (34-2) kissed and hugged each other madly. It seemed a larger celebration than the one in Seattle last year when Georgetown won the national championship.
No doubt, there was reason. When Ewing, named the outstanding player in the East Regional, picked up his fourth foul with 18 minutes remaining in the game, the Hoyas had to be concerned for their tournament lives.
And when Georgia Tech took a 40-36 lead on a play that cost backup center Dalton his fourth foul, fretful people wearing Hoya buttons were looking at each other saying, "It's over."
Broadnax, asked if he thought his team was in trouble, said, "It runs through your mind. But you can't ponder it too long. You just have to try to pick it up and take it to the next level."
And that's what the defending champions did.
Bill Martin, a senior forward, hit a jumper that pulled Georgetown within 40-38. And after Price made two foul shots, David Wingate's jumper enabled the Hoyas to remain within two points, 42-40, with less than 10 minutes to play.
"At that point, I think we panicked," Georgia Tech center Yvon Joseph said. "We didn't play smart enough when Ewing went out."
Maybe the Yellow Jackets did panic. Antoine Ford, a 7-foot freshman who contributed a surprising six points to the 29-29 halftime tie, committed a traveling violation. And Broadnax, a 6-footer, somehow worked his way inside for a layup that tied the game at 42 with nine minutes to play.
When Martin blocked Ford's pass halfway toward the other basket, Broadnax picked it up and raced toward the basket. Broadnax, who was in the game because Michael Jackson had four fouls, made two free throws to put Georgetown back on top, 44-42, with 8:46 remaining.
Even though Ewing didn't return to the floor for another three minutes, Tech never again held the lead. The Yellow Jackets did tie at 44 on a basket by John Salley, who led his team with 15 points before fouling out in the final seconds.
But Dalton followed up his own missed shot and one by Wingate with another follow-up basket that gave the Hoyas the lead for good, 46-44, with 7:16 to play. Martin's dunk extended the lead to four following one of Price's missed jumpers.
"Billy and I have a little joke," Thompson said. "Once I get him mad at me, he takes it out on somebody else."
All the Hoyas played as if they were mad. Broadnax was flying about the floor, harassing on defense, protecting the ball on offense. Thompson called on sophomore Williams (12 points, five rebounds) to handle the ball, take the important shots and hit the open teammate with Ewing on the bench. And Dalton did his best to make the Yellow Jackets think he was Ewing.
"I knew they had it under control, I knew they could," Ewing said, not seeing Thompson roll his eyes skyward.
Finally, after spreading the court and running nearly two minutes off the clock, Thompson sent Ewing back into the game with 5:31 to play.
Tech came within two points four times thereafter, but only once had the chance to tie. And on that opportunity, with just over two minutes left, Price missed a jumper.
"I just couldn't get them to fall," said Price, who was named to the all-regional team with Salley, Bruce Dalrymple, Ewing, Wingate and Illinois' Doug Altenberger. "Every one I took, I took it with confidence."
Everyone wanted to know what happened to Price. He came into the game averaging 17 points on 50 percent shooting. In Thursday's regional semifinal victory over Illinois, he made nine of 12 shots.
Teammate Scott Petway called Price's missed shots "the best looking misses I've ever seen."
Georgia Tech Coach Bobby Cremins said, "It's too bad Mark had a tough shooting day. We would not be here without Mark Price. It's too bad. He missed a couple of big belts."
Thompson said he thought too much attention was being paid to Price's shooting performance. "He made us chase him around and open up some things for some other people," Thompson said.
It didn't open up enough for Georgia Tech, however. Joseph, the Yellow Jackets' 6-11 center, made only one of four shots and finished with three points and four rebounds in 38 minutes.
Joseph said he was posting up, in position to receive the ball. But his teammates knew all too well Joseph couldn't catch the pass if they'd thrown it to him. "We wanted to get the ball inside," Cremins said. "But we did not execute well."
Cremins, who has turned Tech's program into one of the best in the nation in only four years, seemed in a trance after the game, probably realizing how close he had just come to getting into the Final Four.
"This was a great basketball game," he said, staring off in the distance. "The kids played really well. Georgetown is a tremendous team. This was great. They never gave up. They're great fighters. I enjoyed it. I never coached against John Thompson. This was great."
Such close calls seem to happen to a champion every year. Georgetown needed late-game heroics from Ewing last year to beat Southern Methodist by one point before reaching the Final Four. North Carolina State had at least four games like this en route to its title in 1983. And North Carolina nearly lost to James Madison in '82.
"I've always said it's tougher getting to the Final Four than winning the championship," Thompson said.
If so, the hardest part is done.