LEXINGTON, Ky. — A funny thing happened on the way to greatness. Georgetown's all-but-invincible Hoyas got turned into also-rans and a world that didn't dig them much in victory got to see how they handled the toughest of defeats.
The answer was, wonderfully.
While Dwayne McClain was still rolling around the floor with the ball after Villanova's 66-64 victory and the Villanova student body was gathering on the floor, the Hoyas huddled briefly one last time.
Then they ran, not slouched, to the presentation stand to receive their watches. They stood and applauded for their teammates, as if those second-place watches meant something to them. They high-fived the guys coming back.
When Patrick Ewing was called, Villanova's Wildcat mascot slapped him five on the way up. Ewing, on the stand, raised his right index finger in a last We're-No. 1 sign. When Coach John Thompson went up, all his players raised their index fingers.
Then, when the Villanova players went up, the Hoyas continued standing and applauding. They stayed right there, never ceasing their clapping, while myriad Wildcat subs, assistant coaches and accessory personnel went up on the stand, received their watches and threw fists in the air for the roaring crowd. It shouldn't be surprising that a press corps with which the Hoyas have played cat-and-mouse for four years was largely rooting against them, but one writer watching them now murmured, "A class act."
Was this season still a successful one, Thompson was asked later?
"We're 35-3," he said. "Must I dwell on the obvious?
"We're disappointed, sure, we lost the basketball game. I told the kids, 'Play as hard as you possibly can play. If you lose, you lose.' We feel bad. This is the national championship, but I don't want them to hang their heads, or run around crying or making a bunch of excuses. We know how to win at Georgetown and we know how to lose. We just don't want to get in the habit of losing . . .
"If I have to lose to somebody, I guess I get some consolation lossing to (Villanova Coach Rollie) Massimino."--Grinning--"That damn Italian. He and Louie (Carnesecca, St. John's coach) coming in here, talking about pasta . . . "
And Massimino's prediction that the 'Cats would have to play a perfect game to win'--had that come true?
"Look at the percentages," Thompson said, smiling again over Villanova's 79% shooting from the floor, 90% in the second half. "You couldn't get much better, could you? Don't believe a thing Massimino says."
It would be nice to say that the Hoyas took down all the barriers Monday night, but it would be a fib. Thompson, Ewing and Bill Martin walked from the interview room, not back to their dressing room, but straight out to the parking lot and their bus.
Several writers followed. The Washington Post's Mark Asher took a step toward Thompson, but was cut off by little Mary Fenlon.
"Hey, c'mon Mark!" she said, sharply. "We're goin' home. There's not supposed to be nothin'."
Fenlon is the Hoyas' academic advisor. Maybe she brings in outside help to tutor them in English.
In the Georgetown dressing room, players talked manfully. Guard Michael Jackson was asked if they'd just seen the perfect game.
"I think that's possible," he said. "I think they played their best game of the season. I think they knew they had to . . .
"We played hard. They started hitting shots people don't normally hit against the Georgetown defense . . .
"We lost a basketball game. We were beaten in a basketball game. Villanova just flat-out beat us. You have to give them all the credit in the world. We're disappointed in a way. We're not disappointed in another way."
What did he think he was going to feel like on the day after?
"I'll be in class," Jackson said smiling. "I want to graduate on time."
By now, Georgetown assistant coach Craig Esherick was breaking up interviews, herding the players in the locker room toward the bus. A woman reporter walked down the hall alongside Jackson, trying to ask a last question.
"The bus is waiting," said a student manager, cutting the woman off. "He's not giving any more interviews."
A Hoya is still a Hoya, for all that, but that isn't so bad. They lost like men. Thompson, the noted anti-racist, made an ethnic joke. They were goin' home champions, too.