Patrick Ewing had a cold. However, St. John's took sick. The Georgetown Hoyas were stung by questions regarding their physicality and domination. But the Big East crumbled in their wake. Coach John Thompson said he didn't feel comfortable. Yet the entire NCAA field must be trembling in all the brackets after Georgetown proved in Hoopageddon III at Madison Square Garden that it's much better to look maaaaavelous than to feel that way. The Hoyas administered three lethal blowouts to win the conference tournament, outrebounding the opposition by 143-90. In the final they drilled St. John's 92-80 in their rubber match for No. 1 as Ewing sat out more than hulf the game.
If that sounds as if the Hoyas made it seem that their bitter rivals didn't belong on the same court, right, they didn't. While Georgetown shooters Michael Jackson, Bill Martin, David Wingate and Reggie Williams, who together accounted for 23 baskets, made up for the absence of the foul-plagued Ewing and helped weave a defensive cloak the size of Queens over the home team, St. John's turned to jelly. Flavor: Mull-Berry. Chris Mullin didn't bother shooting for the first 12 minutes of the second half, and Walter Berry, nicknamed the Truth, bore false witness by shuffling to the sideline during the rout clutching his right bicep. "At least we know it isn't a heart attack," said one courtside pundit.
Forget about the statistical veneer—St. John's shooting .520 to Georgetown's .569, the Redmen forcing Ewing to the bench for 11 minutes in the first half and 10 in the second, St. John's seizing on two straight technical fouls on Thompson for a seven-point play. The fact is, Mullin's were the quietest 25 points in memory (he had only two second-half baskets), and most of his costar's 14 came too late, typically Berry blossom time.
What really mattered was that suddenly a Georgetown team that had been touted as being finesse-minded and even friendly, came crashing out from behind its Mr. Peepers wimp disguise to take on the personality of the chips, shards and nasties featured in the Hoyas' rush to the NCAA championship last March. "My kids know what time of year it is," Thompson said with a certain glee.
And, sure enough, here came the hammerin' Hoyas once again—crunching bodies, balling fists, woofing and glaring, scrapping on the perimeter and pounding the Redmen on the boards. Georgetown outrebounded St. John's by 36-19 and scored 20 points on tip-ins, slapbacks and other punishing moves underneath. "We were getting good first shots and even better seconds," said Martin of his team, which leads the nation in rebound margin, not to mention intimidation.
One night after Ewing engaged in a frightening rumble with Pearl Washington of Syracuse, Hoya freshman Perry McDonald—a former Golden Glover, uh-oh—nearly came to blows with Mullin. Georgetown's Williams did punch Ron Rowan of St. John's, after which both players were ejected. "It's amazing we got 80—unbelievable, fantastic," said St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca, as if 79 were the over-under. "It was murder out there...but look on the bright side. Play these guys enough and you're ready for anything. Unless you're dead."
Fulfilling Thompson's vow to finish the season "in full force," Georgetown had won its last four regular-season games by 24, 21, 16 (over St. John's) and 27 points, respectively, while holding the opposition to 37.1% shooting. Moreover, the Hoyas' renewed emphasis on bounding and bolting away with the goods gives the champions the appearance of a sprint-hurdles relay team, if there is such a phenomenon. Thompson acknowledged that Georgetown's two midseason defeats had allowed the Hoyas to establish "a new identity and personality. We became this year's team."
"Like a sports car—finely tuned," said Boston College coach Gary Williams, "rather than the usual Georgetown pickup truck." Or bulldozer.
"I haven't quite gotten used to it [the running game]," Thompson said. "Sometimes I want to say whoa and pull on the reins. But the ball has already gone in the basket."
Before the tournament, the rest of the Big East seemed to have already gone south—Boston College losing its final three games, Syracuse dropping three of its last four, Villanova limping from a 23-point whipping by Pittsburgh. Even St. John's staggered to the wire after suffering Hoyan vengeance in that 85-69 slaughter at the Garden a week earlier. Falling on a spin move, dribbling off his leg, loafing, Berry was booed in the Redmen's final home game, a 72-53 defeat of Providence. "People see me going 75 percent," said Sour-Berry, "but I'm getting the job done as well as someone who's giving 100 percent."
"We need rest," Carnesecca said. "Adrenaline has taken the place of fitness."
For all the promotional flack surrounding GT and St. J, the rest of the Big East teams—which the New York Daily News called the "Little Least"—gained respect mostly by beating up on one another. Though the league was second to the ACC among the nation's conferences in winning against outside competition, of the 31 Division I conferences, the Big East's combined non-conference schedules ranked a lowly 21st in toughness. And no Big East team had a non-conference schedule anywhere near the 50 toughest. Nonetheless, six Big East schools were invited to the NCAAs.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim admitted that the Georgetown-St. John's axis had overwhelmed the region. "But there's a gap between those two and the rest of the country, too," he said.
That remains to be seen, but the remains of the Big East were splattered like subway graffiti along the path to the finals. The most prominent victim was Joe Mullaney, the graceful silver-haired Providence coach who was winding up his 31-year career. After St. John's beat the Friars 90-62, Mullaney was given the game ball by Big East commissioner Dave Gavitt (once Mullaney's assistant coach) in an emotional ceremony at mid-court. Mullaney was then carried off by his team, which, considering its 10-19 record, was fortunate not to drop him.
Syracuse reached the semifinals only because a five-foot flip jumper by Troy Bowers of Boston College rolled around...and around...and in...and out...and around some more before dropping by the wayside. "God was on top of the rim," said the Orangemen's Washington, who had scored the winning basket in the 70-69 victory. No doubt the BC shot would have fallen had it been taken by the savior himself, Doug Flutie. But Flutie happened to be in street clothes—under the Eagles' basket, wearing a University of New Hampshire sweat shirt, waving a megaphone and screeching his wealthy little head off.
Fortunately for Flutie, he had vacated the premises the next evening because in about that same location occurred as ugly a scene as can be imagined on a basketball court: a raging Ewing throwing a roundhouse hook at Washington, which, if it had landed, would have turned Pearl into slime. Not that the Georgetown center had not been provoked. However, the incident posed the question: Can this league continue to thrive while permitting gutless, no-control officiating? Clean, hard, aggressive play is one thing. But Thompson so terrifies the Big East, and his team is allowed so much rope, that the result is a heated atmosphere brimming with animosity and nightly brawls. Ewing should have been thrown out immediately—in the NBA he would have been gone, with probably a $5,000 fine—and Washington possibly should have been heaved as well. But only one personal foul was called (on Washington) and one technical (on Ewing), while yammering, pointing and dangerous banging ensued during Georgetown's 74-65 win.
The situation was this: As the Hoyas' Wingate scored from the corner to tie the score at 10 apiece with less than seven minutes gone, Ewing delivered one of his violent elbows upon Washington's jaw. Uncharacteristically, Washington retaliated by jabbing Ewing in the rib area. Cheap shot, Bad foul, Flagrant foul. But then Ewing, after doubling over, paused, cocked and lunged at Washington with as mean a right fist as Larry Holmes has ever dreamed possible. A wild bench-clearing scuffle followed, with both players having to be restrained from renewing hostilities. "Ewing missed?" Carnesecca said later. "He missed the Maryanne punch? The big guy should stop fighting. He can't make enough money in the ring."
But let's be serious. The point is that after last season's Big East championship game, in which Georgetown's Michael Graham punched a Syracuse player and was allowed to remain in the game by referee Dick Paparo, who backed off after he obviously had ejected Graham, and after this year's fiasco, in which referee Larry Lembo issued a nonsensical statement that Ewing only "cocked his arm," Gavitt or somebody should figure out where this striped-shirt anarchy might lead. Even Thompson thought his meal ticket was gone this time. "That's why I ran out on the court," he said. "I wanted them to throw me out instead."
Ho ho. Fat chance.
Thompson constantly left the coaching box during the championship match, as did Carnesecca. For other misfeasances Big John was socked with two Ts before intermission, and Carnesecca drew one. When Paparo called St. John's center Bill Wennington for making an unsanitary gesture, he too picked up a tech, bringing the total to five in one half—the other was a bench T on the Redmen—surely a record outside the confines of Bloomington, Ind. However, Thompson's most satisfying trip had to be his last, when he joined the Hoyas for the traditional net-cutting.
"I told Patrick we weren't through yet, that these weren't the strings I want," Thompson said. He may well get the ones that he's looking for in Lexington on April 1.