LANDOVER -- This wasn't like Hawaii-Loa or Hawaii-Pacific or even Southern Indiana. This was what the conference season will be like for Georgetown, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament and, quite possibly, the Final Four.
Maybe the ACC-Big East Challenge is still a bit too early for Georgetown coach John Thompson's liking, but last night's 79-74 victory over fifth-ranked Duke showed that the No. 6 Hoyas are ready for some real competition.
It also showed they are still very young. After leading by as many as 16 points, with eight minutes left, Georgetown (4-0) nearly fell apart. The Hoyas watched as Duke closed to within 75-74 with 29 seconds to go.
"I said last year that I didn't like it [the Challenge series concept], and I still don't," Thompson said after Georgetown won for the second straight year against a nationally ranked ACC opponent. "But it's better for us this year than it was last year because we've got seven new players, and it was good for them to play in a game like this."
But with a sellout crowd of 19,035 at the Capital Centre looking on, the Hoyas survived, as freshman guard Charles Harrison hit a pair of free throws with 20 seconds to play. Alonzo Mourning then blocked Brian Davis as the Duke forward drove, and Ronny Thompson was fouled. He made both free throws.
The victory by the Hoyas completed a doubleheader sweep by the Big East, as 17th-ranked St. John's watched its big lead evaporate before coming back to beat No. 20 Georgia Tech, 73-72, in overtime. The evening continued the Big East's domination (5-1) in the series going into tonight's final at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.
"An unbelievably intense game," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "You can't be surprised by Mourning and [Dikembe] Mutombo and what they do for their defense. For 11 minutes of the first half, we were disjointed. They knocked us off our game. For the last 29 minutes, I thought our kids played hard. When you shoot 32 percent and still have a chance to beat Georgetown, you must be doing something right."
The Blue Devils never recovered from their horrendous start offensively, finishing 25 of 77 from the field. Bill McCaffrey's outside shooting (20 points) and Davis' inside pounding (eight rebounds, 10 of 11 from the free-throw line) enabled Duke (4-2) to climb back. That, and defense.
Georgetown seemed to be on its way to another easy victory in the Challenge, and for 35 minutes the game was reminiscent of last year's victory over North Carolina. But leading, 64-46, after a technical foul against the Duke bench, the Hoyas appeared rattled. It didn't help that Mutombo had to be wheeled off the court because of severe leg cramps.
"I was concerned," said Mourning, who finished with a game-high 22 points, to go along with 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. "But the freshmen really stepped up and hit some big shots."
Especially Harrison, the 6-1 shooting guard who committed orally to Maryland before an 11th-hour change of heart on the early signing date last year. Harrison shot 3-for-11 from the field, but hit four free throws down the stretch and settled down the Hoyas after fellow freshman Joey Brown fouled out.
"You can't talk experience," said Thompson.
And, if you're a first-semester freshman at Georgetown, you can't talk. Harrison wasn't around to explain his heroics, but Thompson was. "Charlie was kind of tentative," said Thompson. "But he hit some big free throws, and he sort of settled down."
While Georgetown certainly will grow from this victory, it remains uncertain how Duke will react to its second defeat this year to a top-10 team. The Blue Devils, who don't start any seniors, lost to Arkansas in the Big Apple NIT.
"We like to deal with positives," said Krzyzewski. "But I don't want to keep losing."
Neither does the ACC. After last year's series ended in a 4-4 tie, there was concern this season that the Big East had more experience and could make it a one-sided affair. So far that has happened, but Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese wouldn't put much credence in his league's play so far.
"It means we're better in the first week of December," he said.
Said Krzyzewski: "That's inconsequential. Maybe they should make up T-shirts."
If one is made up for Thompson's Hoyas, it should read: 2-0 in the Challenge, like it or not.
Last night St. John's 73, Georgia Tech 72, OT
Georgetown 79, Duke 74
Boston College 100, Maryland 85
Virginia 84, Pittsburgh 80
Seton Hall 78, Clemson 62
Syracuse 86, N.C. State 79
Tonight, Chapel Hill, N.C. p.m. Wake Forest-Villanova
p.m. N. Carolina-Connecticut