The Georgetown men’s basketball team squared off against St. John’s in the Big East Tournament Final at Madison Square Garden on March 9, 1985. The Hoyas, led by Tournament MVP Patrick Ewing and then-Head Coach John Thompson, Jr., proved too powerful for All-American Chris Mullin and the Red Storm, as the Blue and Gray won by a final score of 92-80. Twenty-one days later, the two teams met in the 1985 NCAA Tournament Final Four, with Georgetown again defeating the Johnnies, 77-59.
Thirty-one years and 364 days after their Big East Championship meeting in 1985, the teams met again. This iteration boasted the names of Mullin, Thompson, and Ewing, was hosted in the world’s most famous arena, and saw the physical play that defined the Big East of the 1980s.
This game, however, was played on a Wednesday night, in the first round of the conference tournament. The Garden wasn’t sold out, the game wasn’t on primetime, and there were no National Player of the Year contenders on the floor. Georgetown was led by the sons of legends past, Head Coach John Thompson III and Director of Basketball Operations Patrick Ewing, Jr.. Meanwhile, St. John’s was coached by Hall-of-Famer Mullin. As the Hoyas traveled to the Big Apple to play in their 35th Big East Tournament, it was clear to many that the team was just a shell of its former self.
The season wasn’t destined to end here. One month ago, the Hoyas were in a fortuitous position just outside of many projected NCAA Tournament fields. The team had the signature wins (vs. No. 9 Oregon, at No. 21 Butler, vs. Creighton) necessary to make a push for an at-large bid, and did not have any losses to teams outside of the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) top 100 at the time. With five games remaining on their regular season schedule, the Hoyas had the opportunity to prove that the disastrous 2015-16 campaign, the team’s first losing year under Thompson, was a fluke.
The final stretch began with a road loss to then-No. 20 Creighton in Omaha. The Hoyas surrendered 35 points to junior guard Marcus Foster and shot just 3-22 from three-point range on the day. But the loss wasn’t devastating in the greater context of clinching a spot in the NCAA Tournament. A road loss to a ranked team, which had lost just three games at home all year, wouldn’t make or break the Hoyas’ chances. So long as the team took care of business against perennial cellar-dwelling DePaul at home and long-time rival St. John’s in their next two games, they would maintain their status on the fringes of the Tournament field.
The following week, an all-too-familiar late-game collapse from the Hoyas at home against DePaul, a game in which the Blue and Gray blew a four-point lead in the final 1:22 of play, and a road loss to St. John’s crushed Georgetown’s hopes of dancing in the Tournament by way of an at-large bid. Following this three-game losing streak, with the latest two losses coming against teams outside of the RPI top 100, the Hoyas were also in serious danger of finishing with a losing record in back-to-back years for the first time since the 1971-72 and 1972-73 seasons—the latter of which was Thompson, Jr.’s debut.
Defensive struggles plagued the Blue and Gray in their final two regular season games. Against Seton Hall on Feb. 28, the team gave up 27 points to junior forward Desi Rodriguez and 13 points and 12 rebounds to junior forward Angel Delgado en route to a 62-59 loss. Four days later, on Senior Day, the team was blown out by then-No. 2 Villanova, 81-55. Georgetown as a team was outscored by three Villanova starters, senior guard Josh Hart (21 points), senior forward Kris Jenkins (19 points), and sophomore guard Jalen Brunson (17 points). The 26-point loss was Georgetown’s worst home loss to the Wildcats since the 1949-50 season.
As the season spiraled and NCAA Tournament hopes faded, fans and students became much more vocal regarding their displeasure with the team’s performance, and, by their estimation, Thompson’s inability to lead a talented team to the NCAA Tournament. Since the loss to Villanova, a student petition calling for Thompson’s firing circulated throughout various social media outlets, online bloggers called for his removal, and students created t-shirt order forms with the text “Fire JT3” and the image of a flame.
As pressure has mounted and fans have demanded answers, the program has yet to take a definitive stance on the situation. When a reporter asked Thompson about his thoughts regarding the future of the program after the Villanova loss, the Athletic Department limited questions to those directly related to the game. The university has not publicly acknowledged the dissatisfaction or made any comment regarding the future of the program. Thompson, however, has made an effort to acknowledge fans’ frustration.
“First and foremost, our fans are terrific and have been terrific. They’ve experienced some good times with us, and now, with the stretch we are having, I understand their frustration. There is no one more frustrated than I am. We are accustomed to winning. I know that our players and staff are working hard and playing hard. No one cares more about this program and its tradition than I do,” Thompson said after the team’s Feb. 28 loss at Seton Hall.
A run in the Big East Tournament could have clinched an automatic NCAA Tournament berth and silenced outside distractions for the foreseeable future. But the Hoyas were unable to convert on two layup opportunities in the final six seconds in the first round, ending the season with a sixth straight loss and no postseason basketball in sight.
When asked to assess the state of the program following the game, Thompson declined to answer.
“After a loss like that, tonight, I don’t think it’s the time to do that. I’m not sure [when is]. Not tonight.”
Recent developments have also limited future expectations for the Blue and Gray. On March 11, the team’s top 2017 recruit, Tremont Waters, announced his intention to decommit from Georgetown via an Instagram post. It is expected that Waters will be released from his National Letter of Intent, which was signed in Nov. 2016. Just two days later, Brandy Simms of the Montgomery County Sentinel reported that junior forward Trey Mourning, son of Georgetown legend Alonzo Mourning, seeks to transfer from the school. Without Waters or Mourning on the roster, next year’s team would have just nine out of 13 possible scholarship positions filled. A team spokesperson declined to comment on the status of either player when emailed by the Voice.
As the Hoyas enter the offseason with a combined record of 29-36, including 12-24 in conference play, over the past two seasons, fans have demanded more transparency from the Athletics Department and the university administration. With outside pressures mounting and future prospects suffering, fans remain agitated.
Thompson has had success leading the Hoyas in the past, taking the team to the 2007 Final Four and the postseason in each of his first 11 seasons. Georgetown has won three regular season Big East championships under his tutelage. With two straight losing seasons fresh on every fan’s mind and a gloomy future lingering, however, many are ready to part ways with the coach. Whatever decisions are made by the university, the immediate prospects remain bleak.
The Hoya faithful may be torn on what the school should do with Thompson, but they remain united in their desire for Georgetown to return to the national spotlight. Fans of the program have made one thing clear entering this offseason: they want answers.