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3(3) is a Magic Number — Georgetown at St. John’s

Robert Cole/ALOST

 

akoiki-passport2 – by Adesina O. Koiki
A Lot of Sports Talk editor-in-chief

 

NEW YORK — Today’s look inside the wonderful world of college basketball is brought to you by the number 33.

That’s the number Patrick Ewing, the first-year head coach of his alma mater, Georgetown University, donned during his illustrious collegiate and NBA careers, and it’s one of the few numbers that hang in the rafters of the hallowed Madison Square Garden edifice, an honor that came after Ewing’s Hall-of-Fame career played out as a member of the New York Knicks.

On Tuesday night, Ewing represented Georgetown on the Madison Square Garden floor for the first time in 33 years, when he played for the Hoyas in the 1985 Big East Tournament championship game. And, like on that day, as well as many an occasion in which he took the floor at The World’s Most Famous Arena, Ewing’s team came out a winner. Making like their head coach during his playing days, big men Marcus Derrickson and Jessie Govan did their damage both on the inside and with perimeter jumpers, combining for 35 points and 21 rebounds as the Hoyas improved to 2-3 in Big East Conference play with a 69-66 win over St. John’s, coached by fellow Big East legend Chris Mullin. The loss keeps the Red Storm winless in conference play at 0-5.

So what was it like coming back to The Garden as the head coach of the school he once was a terror for as a player, with a slew of his memorable playing moments as a collegian and professional happening on this very same floor?

“It feels good,” Ewing said afterward in the press conference room. “I’ve had a lot of great memories [at Madison Square Garden]. I’ve had ups and down, a lot of good and bad memories against [Chris Mullin]. It was good to be back.

“And the game, just like the old times, it was a knockdown, drag-out fight,” Ewing continued. “It was one of those ugly games. But I was just happy we got the win.”

So many sights on Tuesday night evoked memories of the halcyon days of the Big East: from Ewing and Mullin cutting intimidating figures while stalking the court, to the special light blue uniforms the Hoyas donned – an updated take on the jerseys Ewing and Georgetown wore when they reached the national title game in Ewing’s freshman season of 1982 – to other Big East legends being present in the arena, including former Syracuse guard and current Georgetown assistant coach Louis Orr and Mullin’s one-time college teammate and three-time NBA champion Bill Wennington, who took in the game as a spectator.

Ewing admitted after the game he did not talk to his players about what importance might be tied to coaching his first game for his alma mater at Madison Square Garden, but that did not stop his players from putting pressure on themselves to make sure his first head coaching experience in New York City was a victorious one.

“It was definitely big,” said Govan, who had 18 points, 13 rebounds and hit the game-deciding three-pointer with 25 seconds remaining to break a 64-all tie. “It was [Coach Ewing’s] first Big East game in The Garden. It was also the big historic rivalry between Georgetown and St. John’s and Ewing and Mullin, and we wanted to do it for him.

“He looked relieved,” Govan continued, describing Ewing after the game. “It was a stressful game to coach and I am glad we were on the right side of it.”

On the wrong end of tonight’s result was someone who knew exactly what Ewing must have been feeling like going into tonight’s game in Mullin, who’s in his third season trying to rebuild his alma mater’s once-powerful national standing in college basketball. The legendary battles between he and Ewing as collegians and in the NBA, plus being teammates on two Olympic gold medal-winning teams (1984, 1992) has allowed the two to almost become kindred spirits in the basketball world – even if coaching against each other, after years of get-togethers on the hardwood as players, was hard to fathom.

“Patrick and I have a long relationship, and I have a lot of respect for him,” Mullin said after the game. “It’s such a unique and surreal circumstance. I told someone yesterday that there was a 100 percent chance that I never would have been here and coaching St. John’s against Patrick Ewing coaching Georgetown. We’ve known each other for so long and been through so many things, so it was just another thing that we are doing.”

As unlikely as this reunion on the basketball court might have been, Ewing believes that, given their upbringings and their career paths, it only makes sense.

“Now it’s gone full circle,” Ewing said. “Now you have both of us coaching against each other. So, I think it’s what dreams are made of. You have two guys who grew up – I’m from Jamaica and he’s from Brooklyn – and we both play a sport that we love, battled each other, became friends and won two gold medals together. Now we’re battling each other again.”

Another win in New York City is in the books now for Ewing, who, jokingly, mentioned another aspect of life after a game at Madison Square Garden at the end of his press conference that’s similar to his playing days: post-game soreness.

“I’m going to go ice my elbows right now.”

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