The circumstances were much different the last time American upset Georgetown.
The Hoyas, led by star center Patrick Ewing, were ranked No. 5 in the nation heading into the matchup against their crosstown rival. The one-point stunner on Dec. 15, 1982, is still the biggest upset in American men’s basketball history.
Almost 40 years later, the Eagles’ 74-70 win Wednesday afternoon over Georgetown had little of the same hype as the shocker four decades ago. Despite Georgetown being 13.5-point favorites, the loss just simply isn’t that much of a surprise — an indictment on how far the program has fallen in recent years.
But Wednesday may have been a new low.
“I’m not going to make any excuse for myself or for anybody else,” Ewing said. “I take full responsibility of it, because I’m the head of the program. Everybody has to do their part in order to help us win.”
The Hoyas entered Wednesday with 11 straight wins over American dating back to 1983 — the season Ewing led the Hoyas to a national title — with all but one of those victories coming by 17-plus points.
“Take my hat off to American, they did a great job. I remember when I was here at school they beat us once,” added Ewing, who fouled out in the loss four decades ago.
Despite the defeat to American at Capital One Arena, it’s still too early to determine whether the excruciating 2021-22 campaign is truly in the past, or if the remainder of the season will elicit similar results to last year — loss after loss after loss. With Big East play starting in about three weeks, the Hoyas — and Ewing, who was on the hot seat amid the team’s 21-game losing streak last season — are at a crossroads.
“Sometimes you’re going to have bumps in the road. Right now, we’ve had bumps in the road,” Ewing said. “It’s all about how we’re going to handle these bumps. Are we going to put our heads down? Are we going to be like rats and run off the sinking ship, or are we going to step up and get the job done?
Still, for American, the victory is an impressive one for a program coming off a 10-22 season, with just three winning campaigns since coach Mike Brennan took over in 2013. The last time American defeated a Power Five team was in 2009 against DePaul.
“It’s obviously a terrific win,” said Brennan, a former Georgetown assistant under John Thompson III. “To beat an opponent like that, it’s great. I’m happy for the guys that they have a moment like this.”
In fact, the Hoyas have historically been more successful against American than any other program that it somewhat regularly plays. Of the 30 teams Georgetown has played more than 12 times since 1949, the Hoyas’ .766 winning percentage (23-7) against the Eagles is their best against any squad.
Playing without leading scorer Colin Smalls, American (3-2) had an early 11-10 lead, but Georgetown (3-3) pulled away with a 17-2 run and later led by as many as 16 in the first half. The Eagles trailed by 10 at halftime, but quickly narrowed the gap with a 6-0 run to open the second half and later retook the lead with 11 minutes remaining.
In the final five minutes, Jaxon Knotek (14 points) knocked down a clutch 3-pointer and made a crucial putback layup to help the Eagles stave off a Hoyas comeback. Geoff Sprouse (15 points) made all four of his free throw attempts in the final 20 seconds. Johnny O’Neil led American with 16 points.
“We came out in the second half and just did not get things done,” Ewing said. “We gave them 22 points off our turnovers. We turned them over [18 times], and we only got 13 points.”
The Hoyas were without one of their best players Wednesday in Brandon Murray due to a lower-body injury. The sophomore guard, a transfer from LSU, is one of nine newcomers on Ewing’s roster. In five games, Murray is averaging 15.4 points, 4.4 assists and 4.2 rebounds.
Georgetown has five more games before Big East competition begins on Dec. 16. The positive news for Ewing’s Hoyas is that conference play literally can’t be any worse than last season’s 0-19 mark. The expectations aren’t high, as the league’s coaches voted Georgetown to finish second-to-last in the conference.
But if the program can’t show marked improvement, the calls for Ewing’s ouster will only grow louder. In his sixth season, the former New York Knicks superstar is 71-87 overall and 26-63 in conference play.
“Things are going to happen during the year,” Ewing said. “Hopefully by the end of the year, we’ll look back at these setbacks and laugh. But right now I’m not laughing.”
• Jacob Calvin Meyer can be reached at email@example.com.
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