College Basketball Nation: John Thompson

Top 10 moments: Georgetown vs. Syracuse

March, 8, 2013
With one of the great conference rivalries about to end, here’s a look back at the top 10 games in Syracuse-Georgetown history. The two face off in their final regular-season Big East game Saturday (noon ET on ESPN).

1. "Manley Field House is officially closed" -- Feb. 12, 1980: This is how a rivalry begins. Syracuse had won 57 straight games at home going into the final match at Manley Field House. But Georgetown put an end to that when Sleepy Floyd’s free throws gave the Hoyas a 52-50 win.

Georgetown coach John Thompson rubbed salt in the wound with the famous line: "Manley Field House is officially closed."

2. Pearl's shot topples No. 1 -- Jan. 28, 1985: Pearl Washington’s jumper from the elbow with eight seconds left gave Syracuse its first-ever win against the AP No. 1. Syracuse won 65-63, and the Carrier Dome faithful rushed the court.

The game was also notable for an incident in which a fan threw an orange at the backboard with Patrick Ewing at the line. After Thompson pulled his team from the court, Jim Boeheim settled the crowd over the PA system. This was also the site of arguably the most famous elbow in ESPN history, as Tom Mees dealt with an unruly crowd.

3. Michael Graham’s punch -- March 10, 1984: Georgetown beat Syracuse in the Big East tournament title game in a heated, overtime battle. There was an altercation in the game as Georgetown’s Graham allegedly took a swing at Syracuse’s Andre Hawkins.

However, Graham was called only for a two-shot foul. “Michael Graham, in front of 19,000 people, punched my player,” Boeheim said. “And the ref had the nerve to call it a two-shot foul.” The Hoyas won 82-71 in overtime. After the game, an angry Boeheim exclaimed: “Today, the best team didn’t win.”

4. Syracuse’s 10-point possession -- March 4, 1990: Arguably the strangest game in the history of the rivalry. Thompson received three technical fouls in a row from three different referees, and he walked to the locker room heckled by 33,015 Syracuse fans. That resulted in a 10-point possession for Syracuse.

The Hoyas still led by two in the closing seconds when Sam Jefferson inexplicably fouled Billy Owens at half court. The foul sent the game into overtime, and Syracuse won 89-87 to capture the Big East regular-season crown.

5. Perry McDonald comes up big -- Jan. 31, 1987: At just 6-foot-4, McDonald drew the assignment of guarding 6-foot-11 Rony Seikaly. Not only did McDonald score a career-high 23 points but his buzzer-beater in the paint gave Georgetown an 83-81 overtime win.

6. Johnson over Zo for the Big East title -- March 15, 1992: Senior Dave Johnson broke a 54-54 tie with the clock winding down, lofting a 10-footer just over the fingertips of Alonzo Mourning with 3.8 seconds left. Syracuse had lost its first three Big East title games against Georgetown.

7. Charles Smith’s coast-to-coast drive -- Jan. 24, 1988: After Sherman Douglas put Syracuse ahead by one with seven seconds left, Smith took the ball the length of the court and scooped a layup under Seikaly. Georgetown won 68-67, silencing a crowd of 32,419 in the Carrier Dome.

8. "Gerry Mac Drops One on G'Town" -- Feb. 21, 2004: With three defenders converging on him, Gerry McNamara knocked down a 3-pointer to beat the buzzer and give Syracuse a 57-54 win in Washington, D.C.

9. Ewing takes a swing at Pearl -- March 8, 1985: It could have been much worse. Early in the first half, Washington gave Ewing an elbow to the ribs. Ewing tried to retaliate, barely missing Washington with a wild punch. The benches emptied, and both players were restrained. Georgetown went on to win 74-65 to advance to the Big East title game.

10. Otto silences Otto’s Army -- Feb. 23, 2013: Otto Porter Jr. silenced the largest on-campus crowd in college basketball history (35,012). He scored a career-high 33 points in Georgetown’s final trip to the Carrier Dome as Big East rivals. The Hoyas won 57-46, holding Syracuse to its second-lowest total in the Carrier Dome.

John Thompson's surreal 9/11 story

September, 12, 2011
Everyone has their own Sept. 11 story. Many of these stories are as simple as vivid memories of the morning itself -- where you were, who you were with, what your teacher said when the announcement came over the loudspeaker. Others are every bit as tragic and confusing as the day itself. Then there are the tales of serendipity, the people who were supposed to go to work on Sept. 11 but, say, called in sick instead.

Former Georgetown coach John Thompson's story is of the latter kind. On Monday, Thompson visited with Jim Rome on Rome's radio show, where he told his own story in harrowing detail. The details are as follows: In 2001, Thompson was set to fly to New York to do a long-negotiated studio interview on Rome's show at the time. Thompson wanted to be able to do the interview and still make a friend's birthday party in Las Vegas on Sept. 13, so he booked a ticket on American Airlines Flight 77 departing on Sept. 11. That didn't work for the show, whose producer, Danny Schwartz, asked Thompson to instead push his flight back to Sept. 12. Thompson didn't like the change, and he told Schwartz as much. Schwartz persisted. Thompson relented. After the events of 9/11 -- Thompson's house is near the Pentagon, and he felt Flight 77's impact as it crashed that morning -- the Georgetown icon realized just how lucky he had been:
“[Thompson's assistant said], 'You were supposed to be on that plane. If that kid hadn’t have talked you out of it, you would’ve been on that plane,'" Thompson said. "The strangest thing about it was, it’s hard to be elated about all of it because of what happened. I’m appreciative. I went out on my porch, smoked a cigar, said my prayers … but at the same time, you can’t be too jubilant about it. But had it not been for that set of circumstances, I would have been on that plane on the 11th.”

The whole interview is well worth a listen. Rome even put Schwartz and Thompson on the phone together:
“Let me tell you something, if you’re ever in Washington, D.C., you look me up,” Thompson said to the producer. “I was antagonistic in those days, and how you handled it saved my life, and I appreciate that.”

Unfortunately, the tragedies of those days still unfolded, and they still affect thousands of people -- and the United States -- in profound ways each and every day. But Thompson's story is a tiny sliver of purely positive luck in that day's otherwise bleak memory. The lesson, as always, is that we never know what lies ahead around the next corner. Sometimes getting lucky is the best you can do.

(Hat tip: Matt Norlander)