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Perspective | Georgetown finally won a Big East game. The Hoyas still need a change.


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When the buzzer sounded Tuesday night — when it finally, mercifully sounded — Patrick Ewing strode straight down the court at Capital One Arena to shake hands with DePaul’s coaches and players, then took three gigantic steps toward the Georgetown student section. It had been 22 months since any of them — the Hoyas coach, the Hoyas players, the Hoyas supporters — had felt what used to be routine: the joy of winning a Big East men’s basketball game.

As Ewing thanked the students, then loped across the court toward a television interview, he took a long, needed swig from a water bottle. He had been in the desert. He’s not out of it yet.

“I know I usually don’t start with a statement,” Ewing said at his postgame news conference. “But I’ll start with a statement today. … Finally, we got one.”

An 81-76 victory over DePaul in front of a scant 3,724 loyalists who could choose whatever seat they wanted doesn’t change the trajectory of a program. This was a salve, and temporary one at that. The victory stopped the Hoyas’ Big East losing streak at an astonishing 29 games. It lifted their record to 6-15 overall, 1-9 in the conference, embarrassing still.

Go back — pick a number — 10 years. Twenty years. Certainly 40 years, when Ewing played center for Georgetown. Those records would have been unimaginable. They are, even after the DePaul win, unacceptable. Georgetown men’s basketball was once a national brand and a national power. It resembles nothing such at the moment.

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“We have not stopped believing,” Ewing said, and that’s admirable. “Sometimes you need to just pop the cork or pop the seal. We popped the seal tonight. We have 10 more games to go. So we can get ourselves right back in the hunt.”

A rare reason for optimism Tuesday night. But it doesn’t change the reality of the situation. In the four years when he became one of the greatest player in the college game’s history, Ewing lost 23 games total. Twenty-nine in a row in a conference it helped bring to prominence isn’t erased because the Blue Demons allowed Georgetown 41 foul shots and went 11 of 19 from the line themselves.

“Coach Ewing, he just kept emphasizing the message, just stay in the fight,” said junior forward Akok Akok, a transfer from Connecticut. “Keep believing. … Pride, and having pride in wearing the Georgetown jersey. That’s a couple things that are important in our program.”

But the losing, it wears on everybody. Ewing is not in his first season trying to resurrect his alma mater. He’s in his sixth. In the 38 seasons from the formation of the Big East until Ewing’s hiring, Georgetown had a losing record four times. Three of those seasons resulted in coaching changes. Four of Ewing’s first five teams at Georgetown finished .500 or worse. It’d take a miracle for these Hoyas to avoid making it five of six.

“I’ve won pretty much everywhere that I’ve been,” Ewing said. “So losing is not something that I’m familiar with. But … it’s all about getting up. When you get knocked down, you can’t stay down. You have to continue to get up. I kept getting up every day. My team kept getting up every day and kept on fighting.”

For how many more days? Change is needed here. Ewing won’t quit, because it’s not his way. Georgetown won’t force him out midseason, because it’s not the school’s way. This is delicate, because as an unpaid laborer, Ewing helped market the school and the program and set the expectations for what Georgetown basketball should be. Those expectations might not be reasonable now. But what’s happened under Ewing shouldn’t reasonably be enough for him to stay in the job, either.

Look, Georgetown has limitations. It plays in an NBA arena that’s not particularly accessible from campus, and a lack of parking, space and public transportation makes it impractical to expand McDonough Arena on campus. So at Cap One, the glass is almost always going to look half-empty. Duke, a private school with roughly 6,500 undergraduate students, has an on-campus arena that seats 9,314. Georgetown, a private school with roughly 7,500 undergrads, has an off-campus arena that seats 20,356. There are challenges for any coach to create game-day excitement.

But this isn’t about atmosphere or attendance. It isn’t about transfers out of the program, because that’s every school nowadays. It isn’t about halftime adjustments or offensive execution or defensive principles. It isn’t about changing the assistants, because Ewing did that after a miserable 6-25 conclusion to last season.

It’s about results, and the results are too obvious not to make a change. Ewing’s record is now 74-99 (.428), and those 99 losses have come in five-and-a-half seasons. It took the first 13 seasons of the Big East’s existence for John Thompson Jr.’s teams to lose 99 games.

But frame it more recently. In the last eight years of John Thompson III’s tenure, the Hoyas lost 100 games total. That concluded with the first back-to-back losing seasons since 1971-72, Jack Magee’s last season as coach, and Big John’s first campaign in ’72-’73.

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The same university president, John DeGioia, and same athletic director, Lee Reed, who thought that was enough to end JTIII’s 13-year stint — which included eight NCAA tournament appearances and a Final Four — will make the decision on what to do with Ewing. The current coach, presumably, will have just one trip to the tournament (an unlikely one at that) in his six seasons.

It’s all too bad. Terribly sad, really. Ewing clearly still cares. At one point in the first half Tuesday, he delayed his trip to the huddle during a timeout so he could coach up center Qudus Wahab one-on-one. As he awaited his TV interview, he gave the thumbs up to fans and embraced Dave Corzine, a former adversary as an NBA center who now serves as a radio analyst for DePaul. He exuded … not accomplishment. He exuded relief.

A few weeks ago — he can’t remember exactly when — Ewing walked into his office and found a note from what he called a “dear friend” on his desk. It read, “Block out the noise, and go get a [blanking] win.”

Ewing is blocking out the noise. Tuesday, he got a [blanking] win. But he hasn’t had enough of them, and there’s no real indication that what happened against DePaul will be repeated Sunday at St. John’s, over the final 10 games of the regular season — or beyond.

Georgetown needs a change. Patrick Ewing needs a change. Only then can everyone around the program determine what are reasonable expectations for the Hoyas in the 2020s. That’s open for discussion and debate. What’s not: 29-game Big East losing streaks can’t exist under any coach at this program. Ewing had his chance, and he not only didn’t turn the program around, he left it further adrift. The most important question now isn’t: Should he stay or should he go? It’s: Who’s next?

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