Arts & Entertainment, Sports

Picking Splinters: Goliath Also Rises

“Davidson beat Georgetown. That's all I have to say.” Those were the words of Davidson's Max Paulhus Gosselin in Monday's Washington Post. Their implication is clear — an underdog toppled a titan. It's a huge story, and probably the biggest thus far in the 2008 NCAA Tournament.

It may be a great story, but it's a hard one to swallow for Georgetown fans. The Hoyas, legitimate Final Four contenders for a second year in a row, were eliminated in the second round of the tournament by a double-digit seed after holding a 17-point lead in the second half. It was nothing short of a tragic end to the careers of Georgetown's four seniors — Tyler Crawford, Jonathan Wallace, Roy Hibbert and Patrick Ewing, Jr. 

However, the foursome should find some solace in the fact that the upset was a huge story at all. After all, the sinking of the Titanic isn't a legendary tale if the ship isn't the Titanic in the first place. Before these seniors got here, Georgetown's ship was about as impressive as the S.S. Minnow (post-“three-hour tour”).

Confused? Think about it this way.

Two years ago I wrote a column after the Hoyas stunned the then-No. 1 Duke Blue Devils in MCI Center. As throngs of Georgetown fans stormed the court, the Blue Devil fan standing next to me smiled, grinning even as several gray-clad students sprinted past him and yelled “We beat Duke!”

The premise of his pose: Watching a storied program like Georgetown celebrate a win against you in maniacal fashion was a pretty good sign that, even though you lost, you were still at the top.

While Georgetown may not quite be in the mood to put on their happy faces just yet, the loss ought to be put in perspective by one simple fact: Georgetown Basketball is at a very different place now than it was four years ago. Then, they were the ones with the sling shots. Sunday, they were the ones looking for a return trip to the Final Four.

On the karmic scales of justice, the loss was entirely unbefitting of Georgetown's seniors. The loss to Davidson was the sort that epitomized the era that predated their arrival at Georgetown, an era they helped usher out with a four-year string of successes that included two Big East regular season titles, a Big East Tournament title and a Final Four appearance. But kindness from the cosmos is seldom in the cards during March Madness. And Goliath draws little pity for such defeats, even when David is armed with Stephen Curry's nuclear three-point bombs. Even as the 6-foot-3 sharpshooter enjoys his “star-is-born” moment, the careers of Georgetown's fantastic foursome of seniors have ended in ignominy. That the legacy of the four seniors is at all in jeopardy is a tremendous shame.

When you think of Hibbert, will you think of him sitting on the bench with four fouls while the Hoyas' lead evaporated? Or will you think of him squaring his shoulders at the top of the arc and watching in disbelief as he set, bent and fired off that 7-foot-2 frame to beat Connecticut this season?

When you remember Jonathan Wallace, will you remember how he lagged on defense, just for onehalfsecond, as Curry drained a three-pointer to delight the Carolina crowd? Or will you remember a year earlier when a Wallace three from the elbow silenced those same blue-bedecked fans in East Rutherford?

Given their body of work, it would be difficult for me to see these seniors as anything but great. One loss, even one in the second round the NCAA Tournament, does little to dampen their achievements. Four years ago, the NCAA Tournament was out of reach. Now, it's an expectation. That is no small consolation prize.

As was recently chronicled in the brilliantly written Sports Illustrated piece by Alexander Wolff, John Thompson III himself was once the focal point of a disappointing collapse. Facing rival Brown while playing at Princeton, Thompson, one of the top passing forwards in the school's history, fired a stray inbounds pass from under his own basket with mere seconds remaining in a two-point game. A Brown player intercepted it and heaved the ball back into the air and through the hoop from 50 feet away, the game-winning shot landing almost back in Thompson's hands under the basket.

The memory serves as one of the worst in Thompson's history with the sport of basketball.

Sunday's surprising loss to Curry and the Davidson Wildcats no doubt will hold a similar standing in the hearts of the Hoyas. Except instead of one last-second dagger from halfcourt, this horror story endured for nearly a full 16 minutes while Georgetown fumbled away that 17-point lead. The collapse will no doubt haunt the Hoyas for weeks to come in the form of highlight films from the NCAA Tournament, and endure even longer in the movie theater of their mind's eye.

But should these seniors ever feel the lingering disappointment from their final game, they ought to look back at what they have built. Look to the gray-packed stands at Verizon Center, and up to the banners in the rafters. Look there, and they will see their true legacy at Georgetown. David can have his moment in the sun … but it is not nearly as impressive as resurrecting Goliath.