If the 1980 Georgetown team had not already laid claim to the nickname "Heart Attack Hoyas," the current squad surely would have adopted it.
"They're trying to give their coach a heart attack," Coach Craig Esherick joked yesterday, "but they haven't succeeded yet."
The latest high anxiety came Monday in Morgantown, W. Va. The Hoyas played well enough to have a 10-point lead with slightly more than five minutes left but frittered all of it away during a stretch that included two turnovers by Drew Hall and one by Tony Bethel. From a tie at 63 with 80 seconds left, the Hoyas inched ahead and held on for a 69-67 victory when West Virginia guard Drew Schifino's desperation three-point attempt just before the buzzer was not even close.
That ensured Georgetown (14-12, 6-9 Big East) a spot in the Big East Conference tournament and met the qualification for the National Invitation Tournament.
The Hoyas will finish either fifth or sixth in the league's West Division. They would be fifth by beating Notre Dame at home in the regular season finale Saturday or if Rutgers loses either at St. John's on Thursday or at Syracuse on Sunday. Otherwise, they will beat out West Virginia for sixth.
The fifth-place team in the West plays the fourth team in the East on March 12 at Madison Square Garden. Providence, which lost to the Hoyas, 71-56, two weeks ago at MCI Center, currently is fourth in the East. The sixth-place team in the West plays the third-place team in the East in the first round. Villanova has a two-game lead over Providence, but trails Boston College and Connecticut by just a game. St. John's could slip into fourth.
Georgetown declined a NIT bid last season because it did not like the travel schedule after being on the road in earlier appearances. That will not affect a bid this season, executive director John J. Powers said.
"Last year was last year," Powers said. "We'd definitely like to have them."
Esherick said after the West Virginia victory that the Hoyas would accept "if we don't win the [league] tournament" and qualify for the NCAA tournament.
In avoiding the embarrassment of finishing last in the West and failing to make the league tournament, the Hoyas have beaten only one team, Providence (6-8), that has won more than four league games. However, Georgetown took Syracuse to overtime at MCI Center, Notre Dame to two overtimes on the road and Pittsburgh to the final possession on the road before losing.
During a pulsating 26-6 season in 1980, the Hoyas, under John Thompson, lost to Boston College by a point in five overtimes and to Drake by two points in double overtime. They also beat Boston College by five points in overtime, but lost to Iowa by a point in the NCAA East Region final.
This Georgetown team must clean up errors in judgment and execution that have cluttered stretches of their close losses and close victories.
"I have a hard time getting mad at them," Esherick said, "because they work so hard and maintain their focus [in practice]. Sometimes, those [key moments] are not at the end, but when you have a six-point lead with a couple minutes to go."