Georgetown head coach Patrick Ewing gestures towards fans while standing next to the tournament trophy after an NCAA college basketball game in the championship of the Big East Conference tournament Saturday, March 13, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
By Mark F. Gray
Special to the AFRO
Six months after the passing of John Thompson, Jr., Georgetown’s most accomplished basketball alumnus under Thompson’s tutelage brought the Big East Conference Championship back to the program that is the standard bearer of the league.
Patrick Ewing became the second former Big East player to win a Tournament Championship as a player and a coach by leading the Hoyas to a 73-48 win over Creighton at Madison Square Garden. Ewing’s youthful band found their rhythm and played with poise during a resilient weekend that personified the entire regular season. The Hoyas used a 34-3 run over an 11-minute stretch spanning the first and second halves to pull away and clinch the conference’s NCAA Tournament automatic bid.
Georgetown will open the national tournament facing Colorado on March 20.
“I keep talking about that Drake song, ‘Started from the bottom,’” Ewing said after the game. “Well, we started from the bottom, now we’re number one in the Big East.”
Ewing’s status as the greatest legend in the Big East history grew exponentially with his latest championship. He gave the conference immediate credibility when – as the top high school recruit in America – he chose to sign with the program in 1981. The most accomplished athlete in school history won three conference titles and a national championship as a player under Thompson and this was his first as coach.
“We can’t be happy with just winning this game. We came here to New York, and we talked about taking steps,” Ewing said. “There were four steps that we had to take. Right now we’ve taken all four, and we have come out on top. We can’t be satisfied with that.”
The Hoyas won the Tournament for the first time since 2007 and it was their eighth in school history. Georgetown has won more tournaments than any program in the conference. It marks the first time since 2015 that Georgetown will dance into the NCAA Tournament, despite needing to win every game in the Big Apple to finish with a winning record, and secure the automatic bid after cutting down the nets in New York.
“It means the world. It’s his first time. It’s my first time, Jamorko’s first time,” said senior guard Jahvon Blair. “We started with him on day one. Just to see how happy he is just makes me happy. Everyone’s happy. I’m just so happy for him,” Blair said, talking about the success of his coach and team.
Georgetown arrived in Manhattan seemingly with little chance of making the NCAA Tournament because their only shot was to win four games in four days. They were picked last to finish in the preseason rankings and the murmuring by many who weren’t fans of the Ewing hire began lining up to question whether he was the man to restore the tradition to the hilltop.
The young Hoyas had to replace their entire backcourt when Mac McClung and James Akindjo left the program following last season. They had to rebuild the entire roster by adding nine new players. Georgetown lost six games that were postponed due to COVID-19, which stunted the development of the freshman guard Dante Harris.
Harris saved his best for the last four games of the conference season. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament, becoming the 10th Hoya to earn the award and first since Jeff Green in 2007.
During the regular season, Georgetown played well enough to win at least five more games, but they made a habit of blowing second half leads and falling apart in latter stretches of second halves. However, the Hoyas defense led to comebacks in the first three games of the Tournament. They trailed top seed Villanova by 10 points in 61-50 in the second half. However, a 15-1 run gave them a 65-64 advantage as the defense held Villanova without a field goal for more than six minutes to seal a 72-71 win.
That proved to be the only game they were stressed in. After the opening game 68-49 win over Marquette and the nail biter against the Wildcats, Georgetown eased past Seton Hall 66-58 then beatdown Creighton.