The last Hoyas season played in McDonough full time was 1980-81, when Thompson was coach, but the program is playing there without fans instead of at Capital One Arena this season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With that backdrop Wednesday afternoon, Georgetown began the task of trying to rebuild the program after losing five transfers in the past year and another player who left early to turn pro. The campaign began on a positive note with a 70-62 victory over Maryland Baltimore County.
“It means a lot,” Ewing said of his chance to pay tribute. “Coach Thompson was an integral part of my life. I’ve had the opportunity to play for him, for him to be a mentor, friend, confidant. I had the towel over my shoulder in honor to him.
“Then all the things the guys have on their jerseys, they’re using their platform to fight for their rights and keeping [the conversation] alive.”
The new-look Hoyas took the floor with Arkansas graduate transfer Jalen Harris and Siena graduate transfer Donald Carey in the starting lineup alongside returning starters Jamorko Pickett, Jahvon Blair and Qudus Wahab. The group didn’t shine throughout, but it showed enough promise to create some optimism.
Seniors Pickett and Blair came into the season as known entities, and sophomore center Wahab gained some valuable experience last season. The unanswered question for the Hoyas was: Who else would step up?
At least in the first half Wednesday, as Georgetown built a 36-30 halftime lead, the answer was Carey. The 6-foot-5, 187-pound guard scored 11 of his 13 points before the half and knocked down three three-pointers during one 15-6 stretch for the Hoyas that extended their lead to 34-23.
Blair was the best player on the floor, finishing with 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists. He shot just 9 for 22, but he was able to create off the dribble and follow his own misses for second-chance opportunities. Pickett added 10 points and eight rebounds, but he shot just 3 for 15 from the field.
Wahab finished with 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting, 12 rebounds and two blocked shots. He showed some touch around the rim and scored three consecutive buckets during a 22-7 run early in the second half that helped the Hoyas build an 18-point cushion that was enough to withstand a late UMBC charge.
Georgetown’s size was too much for the Retrievers, and the Hoyas owned a 58-38 rebounding advantage. Their defensive length bothered UMBC into shooting just 25 percent from three-point range.
“They’re a big team, and we certainly had that drought there in the middle part of the second half,” UMBC Coach Ryan Odom said. “Their length had a little bit to do with it, for sure. Obviously the difference in the game as a whole was the rebounding. We were challenged there.
“Offensively, you’re going to have droughts, especially early in the season. That’s where you rely on your defense and your rebounding to be able to stay in games. I was disappointed in our turnovers.”
The Hoyas left much to be desired offensively, shooting just 37.3 percent from the field and 25.9 percent from three-point range. Still, Ewing was encouraged by his team’s improved defensive play, which was often missing during his first three seasons as coach.
“We did a much better job in the second half in terms of defensively keeping the ball in front of us,” Ewing said. “Later on in that half, we stopped making shots. We missed wide open shots. One of the things I kept telling guys, in the games we’re going to be playing in the future, when we have these wide open shots, we’ve got to make them.”
Notes: Four-star freshman Jamari Sibley, the team’s highest-rated recruit in the Class of 2020, did not play because of a coach’s decision. Northwestern State graduate transfer Chudier Bile did not play because of an undisclosed injury.