By John Fanta
NEW YORK — It was a chant that rang throughout Madison Square Garden throughout the 90’s. A chant that the one wearing #33 in orange and blue earned, producing defining moments in Knicks history.
Those days may be gone, but the legend remains in a new capacity. And when he came home on Thursday night, he called on the faithful inside The World’s Most Famous Arena again, pumping up his arms with the same intensity that he played the game. Why? Because in the process of proving that he can coach it too, Patrick Ewing was on the cusp of a promising win for his alma mater.
That victory came to fruition, as Georgetown knocked off No. 22 Texas, 82-66, outscoring the Longhorns 45-24 for the program’s first non-conference ranked win in exactly three years. It was accompanied by “Pat-rick Ew-ing” in the final minutes, and a moment of what has been, and for the Hoyas, what can be.
“It felt like it was back in the Knicks days,” said Ewing of his moment pumping up the crowd. “I just wanted my guys to hear our supporters. We have a lot of people here and I wanted to make sure they heard them.”
In one of the most impressive halves of basketball in Ewing’s three years at the helm, the Hoyas clamped down defensively, holding Texas to just 6-of-27 from the field in the second half. For a team that finished last in the Big East in scoring defense last season allowing 78.1 points per game, Georgetown needed a step like tonight. Their reward? A Friday night showdown at The Garden with the No. 1 team in America – Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke Blue Devils (7 ET, ESPN 2).
“We did a better job individually,” said Ewing on his defense, which he was very upset with on Sunday after a 91-83 win over Georgia State. “In the second half, we had to limit the threes, and that led us to rebounds to get some easy baskets.”
The key figures in this game came from beyond the arc, as Texas went from an 8-of-18 mark in opening 20 minutes to being held to just 3-of-11 in the second half.
Those adjustments, and more importantly a response from adversity, jutted out for a Georgetown program that is trying to turn a corner and make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. But, a week after a 15-point home loss to Penn State, it was looking more of the same as the recent years for the Hoyas.
“I thought that we took a step forward because it wasn’t just individuals,” said Ewing. “We were more of a team than we have been in the past.”
That came to be true in the biggest of ways in the frontcourt, with NC State junior transfer Omer Yurtseven fouling out in just 12 minutes of action, meaning freshman center Qudus Wahab was relied upon to shoulder the load at 21 minutes.
Coming in averaging just a bucket a game, Wahab had a coming-out party on both ends, scoring nine points to go with three boards.
“He played big boy basketball,” said Ewing of his freshman center. “He’s our future, and he played great defense for us tonight.”
Along with Wahab rising to the occasion, junior wing Jamarko Pickett pitched in 15 points, looking like the player he was as a freshman, while sophomore guards Mac McClung (19) and James Akinjo (14 and 6 assists) were as advertised.
For a young Hoyas team, the question will be whether they can bottle up this momentum and make it consistent during the road to March. One thing’s for certain – Texas head coach Shaka Smart took notice.
“They (Georgetown) played with an edge, with a level of aggression that was a notch or two higher than they did in their first four games,” said Smart.
Perhaps all the Hoyas needed was a night feeling right at home, with a legend calling on old memories to form new ones.
“It was fun, but we have another one Friday,” said Ewing.
There could be more on the way.