In the locker room Saturday after the loss to Michigan State in the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament, Georgetown Coach John Thompson had a simple message for his team.
"I told them they did the best they could," Thompson said today. "I wasn't angry at them. Oh sure, we could have played the game better, but those things happen. I told them I was definitely pleased with what they had done this year."
Thompson also said that senior forward David Wingate, who had a five-for-12 shooting day in the 80-68 loss, played with a bad cold "and was definitely not himself. I didn't talk about that yesterday, I don't like to build cushions. I'm not using it as an excuse, but the boy was sick."
It didn't take long for Thompson and the players to mellow after the defeat. Perhaps because they hadn't had an expected championship snatched away by torrid shooting, as happened in last season's loss to Villanova in the title game.
This season, they played up to their potential, and that was reflected in the locker room after the game. There were a few smiles and no tears or anger.
"This team, we played with what we had, and we had a good year," said Reggie Williams.
In his postgame news conference, Thompson said that with Patrick Ewing around the previous four years, the Hoyas didn't have to play their best to win. This season's team (24-8) lacked that luxury.
"We also lost Billy Martin, and that was just as much a factor," Thompson said today. "Billy ran the floor so well and was an excellent shooter. We lost two NBA players. The people who replaced them did a good job . . . but you can only stretch a rubber band so far.
"I didn't think this year was a rebuilding year. I thought we'd have a good team, not a great team. Next year will be more of a rebuilding year. We'll have more new players, and we'll have to make more adjustments.
"But that's how college basketball is now. You're not going to get a dominant team like the old UCLA teams. It's a different game; there are so many factors. But I know our program will stay strong."
Wingate said: "Georgetown still has an intimidating name, though. The people behind Pat did a good job. Ralph Dalton , Ron Highsmith and the freshmen stepped up and did a good job."
Dalton is a graduate student who stayed with the team an extra season; he was eligible because he sat out a year with a knee injury. He was impressive against Michigan State, particularly in the closing minutes, when he demanded the basketball inside in a passable imitation of Ewing.
Seven of Dalton's nine points came in the final 10 minutes of the game, and all were from inside or at the free-throw line. The Hoyas scrambled in the late going to try to find some way to assert themselves against the Spartans.
Already lacking true intimidation and overpowering strength inside, Georgetown also found that its pressure defense had little effect on Michigan State (23-7). Wingate stripped the ball from Spartans guard Scott Skiles a couple of times in the first half, but as the game went on, the 6-foot-1 senior, his back-court partner, Darryl Johnson, and small forward Larry Polec were able to play keep-away with their opponents.
"When you're talking about strengths and Georgetown, you're talking pressure defense," said Michigan State Coach Jud Heathcote. "Because of Scott and Darryl, that wasn't even a factor."
"They set a lot of picks for him," Michael Jackson said of Skiles, who shot six for seven in the second half. "You're always turning and looking over your shoulder for them." When that happened, he said, Skiles was often gone.
Skiles also was important for his leadership. Patting teammates on the head or yelling at them, he was always able to get his point across.
" One of the qualities of a good player is how he affects the rest of your team," said Thompson. "That's one thing I noticed about Skiles -- he has leadership capability. That's the way Patrick was."
But Ewing is there no longer. And now, neither are Jackson, Dalton or Wingate.
"They'll win next year because Coach Thompson will be there next year," said Wingate.
Williams was already looking ahead to '86-87. "It's disappointing to lose. We didn't want to go home just yet," he said. "Now it's time to start getting our homework done for next year."