“We’ve had a very good run,” Ewing said. “We picked the first game of the NCAA Tournament to not play our best game, and I’m disappointed about that.”
The disappointment followed a surging Big East tournament that propelled the Hoyas here, and when they knelt for national anthem while the Buffaloes stood, it felt like one swell matchup. It had a No. 12 seed (Georgetown) and a No. 5, long a recipe for cherished bracket chaos. The head coaches, Ewing and Tad Boyle, born 154 days apart in 1962 and 1963, had played the same four years (1981-85) at Georgetown and Kansas. (They never played each other.) Georgetown had won its conference tournament. Colorado had reached its final before running into a team similar in trajectory to Georgetown, the Oregon State Beavers, who lately have been tearing through teams like so much bark, stems and twigs.
Clearly the Buffaloes (23-8) smarted from their Beaver gnawings, for they had gone victimized by the old American reality known as Eastern bias.
“It was crazy coming into the game,” their Jabari Walker said after his 24 points on 9-for-10 shooting. “We were, like, the underdog, even being the 5 seed. You know, everybody had us losing this game.”
So they met, as teams clearly should do more often, and they decided they felt “really no pressure,” Walker said, and by halftime, the box score looked like beauty and carnage all at once, depending upon one’s viewpoint and apparel colors. The Buffaloes had made 11 of their 17 three-point attempts even while missing their last, a closing heave that banked and almost dropped in its own self.
Some of the shots looked reasonably guarded. Many of the shots looked unreasonably open. Much of that openness stemmed from the way Colorado whisked the ball around for a statistical daydream of 27 assists, a spectacular 13 of those by McKinley Wright IV. All of it conspired to look pretty in the historic building with its slivers of sunshine coming through, and to look like a deluge of rain upon the fetching Georgetown parade.
“I would just say the one thing that surprised me was how well they shot the ball,” Georgetown graduate player Donald Carey said. “Like I said, they went about 64 percent from the three-point line. I think that was shocking to all of us. But credit to them for shooting the ball well, but on our end we just didn’t defend as we should have defended the three-point line.”
So many shots splashed down that almost 16 minutes went by before D’Shawn Schwartz even made one, yet he wound up burying four until one could see the result in the eyes before the ball left the hands. He made treys Nos. 8-11 between the 4:12 and 0:25 marks of the first half, the last with a defensive hand raised fairly nearby.
Holy mercy on all of that, because things had been hard enough even before Schwartz’s binge, which began with Colorado already ahead 33-19. Walker already had helped himself to four-times-three himself. Three-pointers had drained in from the right of the top of the key, from the left of the top of the key, with a high arc, from squarely at the top, from the left side after a distracting drive and kick-out from Wright, from the left corner after a distracting drive and kick-out from Keeshawn Barthelemy.
It made for luscious basketball, and Boyle called it “pretty close to” the ceiling offensively, and it really didn’t let Georgetown even get near the idea of just being itself. The Hoyas would get 20 points and 12 rebounds from Qudus Wahab, six good assists from Jamorko Pickett and 17 points from Carey, along with seven points from Big East tournament most valuable player Dante Harris and five from season-long leading scorer Jahvon Blair.
All of that wound up feeling deluged.
“We didn’t bring our ‘A’ game, both offensively and defensively,” Ewing said. “The things that we were doing great in the Big East tournament, we didn’t do well today.” If he knew why, he said, “We could have done a much better job.”
Soon in the second half, Colorado’s Dallas Walton noticed his mates getting threes and decided he had not had any, so he went ahead and directed one from the right of the top of the key and it, too, splashed. Nets have sung around this building from time to time across the last near-century, but seldom with such arias.
The score stood 54-27 right then. It would stand even worse later at 84-52. The merciless whoosh of it would mean a quick return flight for Ewing and the players who took him into the clouds, hurriedly back to D.C., and to an offseason made rich in hope by four days in New York, enough to prompt the coach to spot brightness in the future and say, “I think our story is still being written.”