The alignment of those circumstances created a buzz around the championship game that invited a conclusion worthy of a Broadway blockbuster, especially with the eighth-seeded Hoyas (13-12) having become the only school picked last in Big East preseason voting to reach this point.
A 73-48 victory over No. 2 seed Creighton completed the implausible march through the Big East tournament, delivering a record eighth title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament 49 years to the day Georgetown hired Thompson and altered the trajectory of its program, and in many ways the landscape of college basketball.
“As a player, I’m the one out there trying to score, block shots, rebound,” said Ewing, who spent 15 seasons as an NBA assistant before being offered his first head-coaching job at any level. “As a coach, I’m here where a lot of people didn’t think that I had the ability, and I’m proving everyone wrong.”
The Hoyas secured their first NCAA tournament berth since 2015 thanks to punishing defense and relentless rebounding, trademarks of the teams Ewing anchored and Thompson assembled, and closing the first half with 18 unanswered points while holding Creighton (20-8) scoreless for the final 5:52.
Georgetown permitted just 28.8 percent shooting, scored 19 points off 11 Creighton turnovers and used 14 offensive rebounds en route to a 17-1 advantage in second-chance points, all indispensable components in Ewing’s defensive-minded approach to coaching that’s flourishing at just the right time.
Chudier Bile, inserted into the starting lineup only recently, led the Hoyas with 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds, and Jahvon Blair came off the bench to score 18 points, 13 of which came in the first half, on dunks, acrobatic floaters and even a three-pointer off the glass.
Freshman Dante Harris was selected tournament most outstanding player, contributing 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists in the Hoyas’ fourth win in as many days to become the first No. 8 seed to win the Big East tournament. Only Syracuse and Connecticut have won the tournament as higher seeds, each a No. 9.
“We were having fun with it,” said Blair, a senior who made 6 of 12 shots. “Everyone was talking. Everyone was engaged. Everyone was serious. Everyone wanted to win, so we were everywhere, just getting stops, and that just led to us scoring.”
The second half served simply as a pre-coronation exercise for Georgetown, which has embraced Ewing’s message since he arrived four seasons ago with the mandate to reclaim the rugged brand of basketball that became inexorably linked with “Hoya Paranoia.”
As a record-setting center at Georgetown, Ewing directed the Hoyas to three Big East tournament titles in four years and was named most valuable player in 1984 and 1985. His partnership with Thompson helped transform the Big East into one of the premier conferences in the country.
During Georgetown’s March residency at the Garden in the 1980s, the eyes of the college basketball world were fixated on matchups against the likes of Syracuse, with Thompson coaching foil Jim Boeheim playing the villain, and St. John’s, with lovable former coach Lou Carnesecca.
“There’s no question that Georgetown and Patrick helped put the league on the map,” Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman said in a telephone interview. “So it’s exciting to see those glory days begin to get resorted. For Patrick, his Big East legacy is taking on a new dimension with this role.”
So impactful was Ewing’s presence in the conference as a player that when he announced he would be attending Georgetown, Dave Gavitt, the founder and original commissioner of the Big East, proclaimed it was time for the tournament to move to the Garden, which became its home in 1983.
The configuration of the Big East underwent modifications in the ensuing decades, with, for instance, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Boston College leaving for the ACC and Connecticut departing and rejoining this season. The Bluejays joined in 2013 when the conference again retooled.
Through it all, Georgetown had its moments, including winning the title in 2007 in the third season under then-coach John Thompson III. The Hoyas advanced to the finals twice more over the next three seasons but since had become a shell of the program that reigned throughout the Big East’s first decade.
Which is why Saturday’s appearance in the final resonated throughout the Big East. Georgetown mattered again, leaving open the promise of what may be in store under Ewing, who has vowed to make the Hoyas a regular participant once more in Big East tournament finals.
“Obviously for Georgetown this is deeply personal,” Ackerman said. “I think for Patrick and for the program to take the step this year and to prove I think to everybody that coach Thompson’s legacy is alive and well, and now the torch has been handed off to his protege, and in a way things are coming full circle.”