Why Georgetown’s Big East Tournament Win Is Bigger Than Basketball

40 years ago, a nimble 7-foot center named Patrick Ewing made his college basketball debut for the John Thompson Jr.-led Georgetown Hoyas. As a freshman, Ewing won one of his four Big East Defensive Player of the Year awards, took home the Big East Rookie of the Year award and was named to the All-Big East second team.

Ewing helped the Hoyas win their second Big East tournament title in school history and secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. If we fast forward to 2021, things look awfully similar within Georgetown’s men’s basketball program.

Ewing returned to his alma mater on April 3, 2017 when he was hired as head coach for the Hoyas. During his first season, Georgetown finished with a 15-15 record (5-13 in the Big East) and lost to the ninth-seeded St. John’s Red Storm in the first round of the Big East tournament.

The following season, now with highly-touted recruits Mac McClung, James Akinjo and Josh LeBlanc, the Hoyas won five more games than the season prior (19-14). But Ewing and company still lost in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament and in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).

Ewing’s third season took a turn for the worst when it was reported that Akinjo and LeBlanc would no longer be members of the team after the players faced allegations of sexual harassment, assault and burglary.

Georgetown won six straight games following the departures of Akinjo and LeBlanc, but the team finished the season on a seven-game losing streak including another first-round exit in the Big East tournament.

The 2020-21 season started as any other season for the Ewing-led Hoyas, as Georgetown opened their in-conference schedule 1-5 and had six of their games postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

That said, the Hoyas finished their regular season with quality wins against the Creighton Bluejays and the Seton Hall Pirates. But entering the Big East tournament as the eighth-seed for the third time in four years, nobody projected Georgetown to bust any brackets.

The Hoyas breezed through the ninth-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles in the first round of the tournament, marking Ewing’s first Big East tournament win and a matchup with the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats in the quarterfinals.

Despite not having their star point guard Collin Gillespie, Nova had the co-Big East Player of the Year Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and standout guard Justin Moore in tow.

But behind an 18-point, 5-assist performance from freshman guard Dante Harris, the Hoyas escaped with a 72-71 victory over the Wildcats.

Next up was the fifth-seeded Seton Hall Pirates, and the Hoyas held co-Big East Player of the Year Sandro Mamukelashvili to eight points on 3/16 shooting en route to a 66-58 victory in the semifinals.

In the championship game, the Hoyas faced the second-seeded Creighton Bluejays. But about two weeks prior to the big game, Creighton’s head coach Greg McDermott was under fire after he made racially insensitive comments to his team following a 77-69 loss to Xavier. McDermott was suspended for Creighton’s regular season finale against the Butler Bulldogs, a game Creighton won 93-73.

But that is why this Big East championship game meant more than securing an NCAA tournament bid for Ewing and the Hoyas.

Ewing, a Black man, who was vocal about racial equality during the turbulent summer of 2020, who was “accosted” by Madison Square Garden security despite being one of the most recognizable New York sports figures, and someone who played for one of the most influential Black coaches of all-time at Georgetown—could not lose to McDermott and his bigoted comments.

The Hoyas dismantled the Bluejays in the tournament championship, winning 73-48 and limiting one of the most efficient teams in the country to just 31% shooting from the field. In doing so, Ewing became the first to win the Big East tournament as both a player and a head coach.

Following the game, Ewing praised his team’s perseverance, referencing hip-hop star Drake’s hit song Started From the Bottom, and the fact that Georgetown took home the title on the 49th anniversary of the day Georgetown hired Hall of Fame coach John Thompson Jr.

Thompson Jr., who passed away in 2020, transformed the program into a national power house and coached Ewing to a national championship in 1984, making Thompson Jr. the first Black coach to win The Big Dance.

Ewing may not lead the twelfth-seeded Hoyas to a NCAA championship this year, but their future is undeniably bright. With a five-star recruit set to join the Hoyas next season, Ewing could further solidify his incredible legacy within Georgetown’s program.