The last time Georgetown beat a No. 1 team, there were no fans spread across the hardwood, no shockwaves felt across campus and the Big East. The reason was that the Hoyas were the No. 2 team in the country, and their opponent, St. John’s, was poised for battle with the defending national champions.

But there was a sweater. There were two, in fact. The first belonged to Redmen Coach Lou Carnesecca, who had been visited by a coach from Italy and greeted with the garment as a gift. “It was an ugly one,” he later recalled to university media, “No style, no composition.”

Carnesecca first sported the sweater in a January game against Pittsburgh, in which St. John’s claimed victory by virtue of a last-second shot. He only wore it because he had caught a cold, but he and his players insisted the awful article was a good luck charm.

“The sweater helped me win the game,” he said. “After that, I had to wear it. If I didn’t, I’d hear all these St. John’s kids yelling, `Hey, Coach! Where’s your sweater?'”

It did more than that. Carnesecca’s team went on to take the country’s top rank – with a one-point win over powerhouse Georgetown along the way – and a great deal of national attention for the Ugly Sweater and its bearer.

The two teams were unambiguously the two best in the nation, and their Feb. 27, 1985 matchup was easily the most hyped of the season.

“Georgetown against St. John’s was once the hottest ticket in town,” Hoopville’s Ray Floriani wrote. “Back in 1985 there was no Internet. If there were, eBay certainly would have been deluged for ticket requests and people willing to trade virtually anything for entrance to Madison Square Garden.”

“Right now you’re striving for that level of perfection,” Coach John Thompson Jr. told THE HOYA after a Georgetown win over Pittsburgh days before. “This is late February. Pretty soon, you lose one game, you’ll have the rest of the year off. That’s what I told them: `You can’t afford to make mistakes now.'”

The game was sold out; more than 19,000 filled the Manhattan arena. What they witnessed was a show completely stolen by Georgetown, and it began when Thompson emerged at gametime wearing a rather familiar-looking outfit: it was the Ugly Sweater, an exact replica of Carnesecca’s.

“One of our alumni got the sweater for me,” Thompson said after the game. “With all the talk and publicity surrounding the sweater, I figured after 13 years of hard work, I better get me one too, and save myself a few years.”

It was just another chapter in a long history of Hoya taunts of opposing teams in the Thompson era. In addition to his team’s oft-decried aggressive style of play, Thompson exploited his image as the Darth Vader of college basketball by hiding his players from the press and, after beating Syracuse in its old arena’s last game, derisively declaring that “Manley Field House is officially closed.”

All this before a pep band that took to playing John Williams’ “Star Wars” villain theme at competitions.

The crowd greeted Thompson and his sweater with appreciative cheers, but little else in the game could be deemed pleasing to the Garden faithful. Georgetown dominated from beginning to end; the Redmen’s only lead – 24-22 with 7:09 left in the first half – was wiped away by two big Patrick Ewing baskets and an 18-7 Hoya run to end the half. By the time that first buzzer sounded, St. John’s had given up 11 turnovers, shooting 44 percent from the floor to Georgetown’s 59.4.

“It came down to patience, good shot selection, and some hardnosed defense,” THE HOYA reported. “Or maybe you could simply say it was the team that wanted it the most that emerged victorious.”

St. John’s never came close to quashing Georgetown’s 44-33 lead, and the Hoyas left MSG with an 85-69 win. They would take on the Redmen twice more that season – in the Big East final and the NCAA national semifinal – and emerge both times with victories.

“It was a question of pride,” Thompson told the newspaper, which wrote that his Hoyas “convinced more than a few [in] Madison Square Garden that sweaters do not win basketball games, players do.”

Or, at very least, that one sweater can end another’s streak.

Twenty-one years after the “Sweater Game,” it was again a question of pride. For in Saturday’s game against Duke, the Hoyas found their No. 1-ruffling accomplishment in pretty good historical company on a cold January afternoon.

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