One of John Thompson's favorite pieces of philosophy is, "We try not to get too high when we win, or too low when we lose." And after practicing the first half of that for the better part of two years, he and his players now cope with the final words.
The Georgetown Hoyas arrived at National Airport yesterday at 2:30 p.m. and while obviously disappointed, neither Thompson nor his players seemed especially low following Monday night's shocking 66-64 loss to Villanova in the NCAA championship game in Lexington, Ky.
Thompson made short speeches at the airport and at Healy Square on the Georgetown campus. In both places, it seemed strange that the players were the ones consoling their supporters.
At the airport Thompson said, "It's hard to stand here and talk to you now . . . . If we had won there would be a lot of smiles and posing for pictures. We know how to win and we know how to lose, too. We just don't want to do it too frequently."
Later, at Healy Square, he addressed a crowd of about 700. "I told them last year that when I die, they can take my body to Georgetown," he said. "Well, I ain't dead yet."
"They (the players) never leave you. Their actions move on to the younger players. So Patrick Ewing will never leave Georgetown. Georgetown is a spirit and an attitude and you can never kill that . . . it's not the end of an era, it's the beginning."
Seniors Ewing and Bill Martin also spoke to the crowd, which began chanting, "NBA . . . NBA" when Ewing was introduced, then "One more year . . . " as he stepped to the podium. "I just want to say, 'I love you,' " Ewing said in what could be his last public appearance as a part of Georgetown's basketball team.
Martin said, "Before the games, Patrick would come over to me and give me a high five and say, 'We came in with style, and we're going out with style.'
"We went out with style," Martin said.
The Hoyas would have preferred to go out with a victory, which would have made them the first team to win back-to-back titles since the UCLA teams of Bill Walton in 1972 and 1973. Georgetown, the top-ranked team in the nation, already had won 17 straight and beaten Villanova, a Big East rival, twice during the regular season. Many people didn't give Villanova (25-10) much of a chance.
But the Wildcats came up with what probably has to be considered as the greatest team performance ever in a title game. They made almost 79 percent of their shots, an NCAA tournament record. They missed only one shot in the second half -- when Ewing blocked one by Ed Pinckney. All nine of their shots that got to the rim in the second half were good.
Perhaps the most amazing thing was that Georgetown lost only by two points. The Wildcats actually trailed by one with less than three minutes to play.
But Villanova made 10 straight free throws toward the end and came away with its first national championship, which Coach Rollie Massimino called, "probably the greatest day in the history of Villanova basketball." He could have left off the word "probably."
In such a close, evenly played game, each possession can be reviewed and, for both teams, a few will be particularly hard to forget.
Georgetown had a chance to go ahead by six points for the third time in the first half when freshman Perry McDonald missed a short base-line jumper. And that enabled Villanova to close to 20-18 on a basket by Pickney. McDonald came right back and double-dribbled to give Villanova the ball again. And Dwayne McClain tied it with a jumper over Ewing.
The next memorable play came two minutes into the second half. Pinckney, knocked off-balance by Ewing's foul, tossed up a shot that had no chance -- on a normal night -- to find the center of a basket. But it did, he made the free throw, and the Wildcats were in command with a 34-30 lead.
Georgetown did take a 42-41 lead on a basket by David Wingate after Villanova missed for the only time in the half, and the lead changed seven times thereafter. Twice to put Villanova ahead, Pinckney -- who was voted the game's most valuable player -- made shots over Ewing that told all 23,000 in Rupp Arena that Pinckney wouldn't be backing down.
And Georgetown's last lead preceded perhaps the biggest -- and maybe the most disappointing -- play of the game for Georgetown.
With Georgetown leading, 54-53, with four minutes left, Pinckney lost the ball out of bounds and the Hoyas went to the spread. Martin, standing in front of his bench, bounced a pass too hard. The ball ricocheted off Horace Broadnax's leg and into the arms of Villanova's Harold Jensen, who made the go-ahead-for-good jumper with 2:36 remaining.
Thompson said yesterday he would have pulled the ball back -- to bring Villanova out of its zone defense -- "even if there were nine minutes left."
The rest was a matter of trying to catch up, for Georgetown, but Villanova made enough foul shots to win one of the best-played tournament games ever.
Reggie Williams, Georgetown's 6-foot-7 sophomore swing man, asked to come out because he was winded, Thompson said. And Thompson had to try to put on extra defensive pressure to stop Villanova's shooting success. So he played Broadnax, who is perhaps the team's best defensive guard. Georgetown, with Michael Jackson (nine assists, no turnovers) at the point, is capable of running the delay game as well as any team since North Carolina and Phil Ford, so criticism of that strategy seems off base.
Who could imagine that the Wildcats would make nine of 10 shots in the second half in such a pressurized game? Even Gary McLain, the Villanova point guard, said, "I knew we were hot, but not nine out of 10."
Perhaps it is a measure of the Hoyas' greatness that, although unaccustomed to trailing, they did nearly everything possible to scramble back. Even with two seconds left -- following Jackson's layup -- when Villanova tried to let the clock run out, they did a smart thing and knocked the ball away to stop the clock. But it only delayed the final result.
"We did everything we could," Broadnax said. "We were up in their faces on every shot and every pass. They just played a great game."
It really needs no more analysis than that.