LANDOVER -- Perhaps the best test of whether an opponent has been rattled on the basketball court is when the job has been so thorough that the affected party doesn't realize what has occurred.
As evidence, meet Duke's Christian Laettner, the rattled, and Georgetown's Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, the rattlers.
The Hoyas' inside forces drove Laettner to distraction at the Capital Centre last night, and as a result, sixth-ranked Georgetown squeaked out a 79-74 win over No. 5 Duke.
Laettner shot an underwhelming 5-for-22 from the floor and an uncharacteristic 4-for-7 from the free throw line for 14 points.
He was consistently confronted with the long arms and muscular frames of either the 7-foot-2 Mutombo or the 6-10 Mourning in his face, and yet Laettner wasn't sure what had happened.
"They bothered me on four or five shots. Maybe I was thinking about them," said Laettner. "I didn't consciously worry about them. But if I shot 5-for-22, I guess they did [affect him]."
That Laettner was affected was as clear as the measure of retribution, unintentioned as it may have been, that Mourning achieved for his poor play in an earlier meeting.
Two years ago, Duke beat Georgetown 85-77 in the NCAA East Regionals to gain a berth in the Final Four.
Laettner, who was like Mourning a freshman, scored 24 points and pulled down nine rebounds in that game and dominated Mourning.
Of course, things were different then. Laettner was joined by Danny Ferry, and Mutombo hadn't become the force he is now.
"I had it a little easier then," said Laettner. "Danny was on the team and I did simple things.
"Tonight, I forced some things. I wasn't wide open, but I got enough shots to have a good game. I was just missing them."
Mourning, who scored a game-high 22 points and had 10 rebounds, said last night's game, which gave the Big East an insurmountable 5-1 mark in the ACC-Big East Challenge, was totally unrelated to the NCAA matchup.
"I remember the game. It was a very big game," said Mourning, who played with Laettner (and for his coach, Mike Krzyzewski) this summer on the team that represented the United States in the Goodwill Games and the World Championships.
"But that's in the past now. I took it in stride and I used it as a learning experience. I try to treat every game as a learning experience."
The lesson, though, was given to Laettner, who, on one occasion in the second half, started to drive in on Mourning, but backed out and passed to guard Bill McCaffrey, rather than attempt to shoot.
Later, with 2:30 left and the Blue Devils mounting a furious comeback to close what had been a 16-point Georgetown lead, Mourning blocked Laettner's jumper in the lane to temporarily quash the threat, one of four blocks.
That Duke was even in the game at all down the stretch was a testament to its spirit, for the Hoyas featured a perimeter defense that was all but smothering.
The Blue Devils (5-2), who entered the game shooting a sparkling 55 percent from the floor, were held to 32 percent by Georgetown, failed to score a basket that hadn't been goaltended on 18 straight first-half possessions and yet had a chance to tie or take the lead in the last 30 seconds.
"When you shoot 32 percent and have a chance to beat Georgetown, you're doing some things well," said Krzyzewski.
What Duke did was turn up the pressure on Georgetown (4-0), forcing the Hoyas, who are playing three freshmen on the perimeter, into turnovers.
The win was the first of the year for Georgetown over a Division I opponent. Coach John Thompson, who has been dragged kicking and screaming into the Challenge, and yet owns wins over North Carolina and Duke in successive years, was only slightly appreciative of the series.
"I didn't like last year. It's better this year than last year," said Thompson. "The reason it's better is we have young kids, seven new kids.
"Having seven new kids, it's good to get them in this situation. That was the only positive thing."
When Duke junior Brian Davis hit two foul shots with 29.4 seconds left, the Blue Devils had closed the gap to 75-74, making up nine points in 1:30.
But Laettner fouled out after Davis' shots and freshman guard Charles Harrison, who orally committed to Maryland last fall before switching to Georgetown, hit two free throws to extend the lead to three.
On the other end, Davis drove to the basket for a shot, but it was swatted by Mourning and the ballgame was over.
"This was a great game for our team to play in," said Krzyzewski. "When Brian hit those two free throws, I thought it would be a great game for our team to win."
Only if Mourning and Laettner had switched bodies.