47 years and 342 days ago, Villanova men’s basketball sent Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas home in his last game as a collegiate player. It was the 1985 national championship game, a performance dubbed “The Perfect Game,” where the No. 8 Wildcats knocked off the No. 1 Hoyas, shooting a record 78.6 percent from the field. After the game, Ewing was drafted first overall by the Knicks and played the majority of his legendary career in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Yesterday, in that same Garden, where his jersey hangs from the rafters, where he receives roaring applause to this day, Villanova (17-15, 10-10 BIG EAST) sent Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas (7-25, 2-18 BIG EAST) home in what many believe to be his last game as a collegiate head coach, eliminated from the BIG EAST Tournament 80-48.
With head coach names swirling and the rumor mill churning, much of the Georgetown basketball community seems to be taking it for granted that Ewing will no longer be the head coach come next fall. Going into the postseason, there remained only one potential door for the head coach to come back through and cook up another pot of gumbo: Win the BIG EAST Tournament in a miraculous run mirroring the one in 2021—though it was in question whether even that would have saved his job after two historically bad seasons where the Hoyas went a combined 2-37 in conference play.
Whether or not that door would have gone anywhere for Ewing, it was slammed shut last night by Kyle Neptune’s Wildcats, so vigorously it could have taken off a few fingers. The Hoyas were outclassed in every respect and wore their frustration so clearly on their sleeves that if they were fans at a home game, Capital One may have kicked them out for being too disrespectful.
Sophomore center Bradley Ezewiro and graduate forward Bryson Mozone started the game in place of Qudus Wahab and Akok Akok, and the latter did not play at all, for unknown reasons. Sophomore guard Primo Spears led the Hoyas with 17 points, and no other Georgetown player cracked double digits. Villanova had five with 10 or more points, and freshman forward Cam Whitmore led the way with 19.
The game, surprisingly, featured no second half collapse by the Hoyas. But that was because the first half was a collapse as well—the entire game, it felt, was a gradual, 40-minute collapse. The Wildcats consistently hit the open threes they were given (to the tune of 42.9 percent on 3-pointers), and consistently pressured the Hoyas into bad shots (to the tune of 15 percent on 3-pointers). Everything was consistent, and consistently awful for Georgetown.
The body language of the team seemed especially egregious. For many of the players, this was the largest crowd they’d ever played in front of—a reported sellout of 19,812, though many left quite early—and yet, they played as if completely checked out already. Spears, despite playing hero ball for a large chunk of the first half, looked absolutely lethargic without the ball and after Villanova baskets throughout the game.
Here’s a homework assignment for attentive readers: Go back and watch some conference games the Hoyas played this year, and pay attention carefully when after an inbound, Spears passed it to a teammate in the back half of the court. Watch how quickly they look to pass it back to him. This was especially the case in this game, when on multiple occasions, Brandon Murray almost turned the ball over trying to hot-potato it back to Spears.
Another unsurprising issue was the playbook: The majority of the Hoyas’ offensive possessions were pick-and-rolls, and when they didn’t get the first shot they wanted, the Hoyas shifted clunkily into isolations shared evenly between the guards. At the end of the first half, looking to shrink the 41-20 deficit, Murray let the clock run down to five, but rather than a drawn-up play for a good shot, he called up a screen from Wayne Bristol Jr., fumbled the ball, then swatted it over to Jay Heath for a rushed, contested three that dinged off the outside of the rim.
As the clock wound down on another sad showing, the “fire Ewing” chants began. But whether out of the respect he still commands in the Garden or out of pure apathy, they all tended to fizzle out quickly without much traction.
Ewing made it clear in his final press conference that he would be leaving the decision up to the Board of Directors and President John DeGioia. If they had acted earlier, perhaps he would have gotten a warm, well-publicized sign-off in the arena he made his palace. If they had acted much earlier, we could have had a plan lined up for the coming years as we headed for the exits tonight, and something to get excited about.
Instead, what we got was a sigh, partially of frustration, partially of relief. The head coaching tenure of Patrick Ewing just fizzled out, much like the unfriendly chants. The Ewing era died not with a bang but with a whimper and a ducked head on the way out of the Garden.