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The Hoyas proved it at Patrick Ewing’s old stomping grounds: They have plenty to build on

Georgetown Coach Patrick Ewing protests a technical foul in the second half of Friday’s 81-73 loss to Duke at Madison Square Garden. (Emilee Chinn/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

NEW YORK — It was midway through the second half. His tie had already been removed and his collar was wide open, so there was nothing left for Patrick Ewing to do but absolutely come unhinged. He unleashed on the referees and stomped those large loafers on the floor he once owned. He wasn’t just assessed the technical foul that followed. He earned it. Indeed, he had to be restrained by his assistants from getting another and, if the rules allowed, another and another and one more beyond that.

Ewing had good reason to turn himself into a 7-foot-tall live wire. The Georgetown men’s basketball team he coaches had just been called for another foul where none seemed to exist. That’s not the takeaway, though, in what became an 81-73 loss for the Hoyas against top-ranked Duke. It’s this, and it’s important: Ewing not only will fight, but he has a team worth fighting for.

“We went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the country and had our opportunities to win the game,” Ewing said Friday night. “There’s a whole lot of things to build on. I think that our future is bright.”

Games such as this (legacy program vs. legacy program) on stages such as this (Madison Square Garden) are the best college basketball can offer in November. Georgetown’s trip here for something called the 2K Empire Classic was more memorable and meaningful than anything that could be established against — oh, I don’t know — Alabama A&M and Maryland Eastern Shore and Richmond and Maine, all opponents from Ewing’s first season at the Hoyas’ helm in 2017-18. Shoot, that group might still figure it’s owed the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship.

This, this is a different bunch.

“I think at the end of the year there’s going to be a lot of people that’s afraid to play us,” Ewing said.

What might have seemed crazy 48 hours earlier seemed completely reasonable after Friday night. Over the course of the matchup with Duke — which came on the back of a relentless second half in Thursday’s impressive victory over Texas — a couple of questions crystallized about these Hoyas. Namely: How in the world did this group trail Mount St. Mary’s by 19 points in its season opener? How did these Hoyas trail Georgia State by eight?

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They’re reasonable questions, because the Hoyas who appeared in New York — in spurts, ever-lengthening spurts — look athletic, capable of defending and deeper than they might have guessed. Ewing and Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski — who earned his 1,138th win Friday — go back decades.

“Patrick and I are not good friends,” Krzyzewski said. “We are great friends.”

Friends such as that can share the dirty stuff about their teams. Before this trip to New York, Ewing confided in Krzyzewski. “He wasn’t happy with his team,” Coach K said. Given the uneven performances to date, that made sense.

But in scouting Georgetown, Krzyzewski and his staff had to watch not just the bad stuff — including a 15-point home loss to Penn State — but also those final 20 minutes against Texas, ranked 22nd in the nation. The Hoyas were stifling on defense. They were diversified on offense. They won going away.

“When I watched that, I said, ‘Oh, they found themselves,’ ” Krzyzewski said.

This is who the Hoyas (4-2) have to be going forward. Ewing’s team owned Duke for stretches of the first half, and Madison Square Garden roared a throaty approval. Ewing has so much cache here, and it was he — not Krzyzewski, not any of the players — who received the most thunderous ovation during opening introductions. He once took up the space on the block where Duke’s Vernon Carey Jr. — who scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds — established himself Friday night. He once owned the lane here.

“This is home,” Ewing said.

As a player at Georgetown, as a player for the Knicks, as an NBA assistant, as the head coach at his alma mater, this was Ewing’s 625th appearance in this, the building that bills itself as the world’s most famous arena. He couldn’t be more comfortable if he was lying on his (very long) sofa in his very own living room. It makes sense, then, that his charges might seem accustomed to the stage. Huge sections of Georgetown fans — throngs that at times drowned out Gotham’s sizable Duke fan base — didn’t hurt.

“A lot of Georgetown fans in the crowd,” Duke point guard Tre Jones said.

It’s not just that the Redskins have lost fans. It’s that they haven’t made new ones.

That’s heartening — for both Friday night and the months ahead. The Hoyas pushed Duke. They led by as many as 11 in the first half. They were tied at halftime. They outshot the Blue Devils 50.9 percent to 41.5 percent. You could argue they out-defended them, too, which is saying something given this Duke team is, at least early on, defined by its defense.

Two things happened in the second half that prevented a Georgetown upset: Duke got Jones and freshman Cassius Stanley — who combined for three points in the first half — going offensively; they had 31 points after the break. And Ewing grew incensed over what looked to be some phantom calls that dictated the flow of the game, limiting the minutes of center Omer Yurtseven, Georgetown’s best player, and guard Mac McClung, who was inconsistent Friday.

“I was just disappointed in the way that it was going,” Ewing said. “. . . I thought that a couple of calls didn’t go our way.” And yet, a breath later, he added, “I’m not going to cry about the whistle.”

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He doesn’t have to cry about the whistle. As Krzyzewski pointed out, Yurtseven — who didn’t so much as take a shot in the first half but scored 21 points after the break — is a tough matchup for anyone, because if you double-team him he can pass out of it. Point guard James Akinjo (19 points) is tough and will improve on his six-assist, five-turnover outing from Friday.

“When you have that combination and depth,” Krzyzewski said, “I think they could be pretty good. Really, really good.”

They’re not good — not yet. But they can be. And they grew here.

“The whole trip is something that we can build on,” Ewing said.

Patrick Ewing can rip off his tie and lose it over those calls that seemed so egregious in the moment. But back on the bus, and back in the District, he can know the team he coaches was better for the experience. That could matter more in March than it does the week before Thanksgiving.

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