Thursday, January 26, 2006


1/26 - Fall Church News - Post Duke Commentary

Falls Church News-Press
Picking Splinters: Taste Should Leave Hoyas Hungry
By Mike Hume

“We Beat Duke!”

The cry is shouted loudly and frequently after the buzzer sounded on last Saturday’s landmark win by Georgetown. So why was the Duke fan next to me smiling?

The Hoyas won. They beat Duke. We won. You lost. So why the heck are you grinning?

As a Georgetown alumnus lucky enough to watch the game in person, I know why I’m happy. In the recent history of the program, there hasn’t been a win like this.

Until Saturday, this tale always ended in heartbreak for Hoya Nation. Since 1999 Hoya Fans have been six-times more likely to see the season end in (or out of) the NIT than the NCAA Tournament. En route to that usually-disappointing end, big wins have been few and far between. The last exciting victory I can recall was a last-second 55-54 win at MCI over Notre Dame last season.

But Notre Dame is not Duke. That is why the key word in that three-word phrase, as Georgetown moves forward, will not be “beat,” but rather the name of their vanquished foe.

Duke is THE program in college basketball. When they lose, it’s shocking. Heck, when they miss a shot, it’s shocking. When they’re ousted in the NCAA Tournament (and it’s always the NCAA Tournament), it’s an upset. That’s why last Saturday’s win was so big.

The win over the Blue Devils isn’t just notable because they were undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation. The win over the Blue Devils is notable because Duke is everything you want your program to be.

On Saturday, Georgetown and its fans got a taste. A taste of what it’s like to play the best basketball in the country. A taste of what it’s like to have the best fans in the world. And a taste of the victories programs reap when those two things are combined.

The Hoyas played smart, dragging defenders away from the hoop only to beat them time and again through the back door. They played with poise while staving off a 56-point second-half charge, maintaining their composure even as Duke ratcheted up the press and J.J. Redick poured in bucket after bucket. The Georgetown players exhibited every drop of the talent prognosticators knew each of them possessed when they first came to campus, shooting over 60-percent from the field.

And then there were the fans.

For the first time in six years I can say that Georgetown actually had a home court advantage against a top-tiered foe in MCI Center. The declining GU program led to declining attendance at MCI, where a gagged monk floating through space made more noise than the sub-10,000 person crowds. And usually, the majority of those in attendance cheered for those sporting the away jerseys.

Saturday the stands shook and the rafters rattled not to the cries of “Let’s Go Duke,” “U-C-O-N-N, UConn, UConn, UConn,” or “Here Come the Irish.” Rather they trembled to the timbre of the “Hoya, Hoya Saxa” of the dear old Blue and Gray. And everyone could hear it. On the court and off.

For years I dreamed of cheering in an electric environment like Cameron Indoor, and on Saturday I did, even despite the vacuous cavern that is MCI. A student section that spanned both ends of the court sported uniform gray t-shirts carried their team on an emotional high. A two-page spread reading “Beat Duke” appeared in GU’s campus paper of record, The Hoya, gently taunted their opponents.

But all of this — the effort, the fandemonium, the victory, everything — was just a taste. It was one game. Duke has been doing this for over a decade. And that’s what should drive both Hoya fans and players as this season moves on.

On Saturday, senior Brandon Bowman scored 23 points and limited the miscues to which he has sometimes been prone. On Monday, with a four-point lead, he fouled Notre Dame’s Colin Falls on a three-pointer with less than two seconds left in regulation. It took Georgetown two overtimes to prevail.

Top teams don’t make mistakes like that. And thus, through some transitive property, Georgetown is still not a top team.

But no one claims them to be. Yet.

You don’t just knock of the champs and take the title. This isn’t boxing. You have to labor over the duration of the schedule. It takes multiple games, multiple seasons. But now the groundwork is there for Georgetown.

The Hoyas have already inked prized recruits Dajuan Summers and Vernon Macklin. Patrick Ewing, Jr. transferred to the Hilltop after a stint at Indiana. DeMatha junior Austin Freeman is similarly on board. Now, with the tidal wave of exposure from this landmark win, a swell that started with the hiring of John Thompson III is starting to crest. Georgetown is back in the national eye.

But it’s still just a taste. And tastes don’t satiate the nation’s top programs. It just makes them hungrier.

If the Hoyas keep working to improve, then perhaps someday down the line, when the gray from my t-shirt has seeped into my hairline, maybe, just maybe Hoya fans will reap the reward of hearing an incredible three-word phrase that cements you as a premiere program. And maybe they too will smile when the opposing fan next to them shouts: “We Beat Georgetown!”

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