One For the Ages

By Sean P. Flynn Hoya Staff Writer

It was the most extraordinary, exhausting, exhilarating game you could ever imagine.

It was a real-life movie played out in the intense and swelteringly hot environment of Virginia’s cozy University Hall.

And nearly a week after Georgetown’s exhausting 115-111 triple-overtime victory over the Virginia Cavaliers in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament, I still can’t stop talking about the game, and it’s not just because a gigantic shot of my face showed up on the ESPN broadcast.

In my life I have never seen anything like this game, and I have no doubt that it was the most exciting sporting event I have ever witnessed. The look of exhaustion, aided by a poorly air-conditioned gym, infected nearly every face in the arena, and the rush of adrenaline lasted the entire game. After 3 hours and 10 minutes of madness played out between two teams who did not want to lose, I felt like I needed IV fluids to replenish my body.

In the grand scheme of Georgetown basketball, a win in the first round of the NIT may not be terribly important. But the Hoyas overcame seemingly overwhelming disadvantages to gain the victory. Their defense suffered with starting center Ruben Boumtje-Boumtje sidelined by a foot injury, and team depth was hampered further by Victor Samnick’s thigh injury. By overtime, three Hoyas had fouled out, and, already beleaguered by a 15-point comeback and a subsequent seven-point comeback, the Hoyas could have just taken solace in a great comeback. But the Hoyas never gave up the fight, and the images of the overtime war remain ingrained my head.

Lee Scruggs, his usually smiling face cringing under the pain of cramps and a foot injury and his legs completely covered in icepacks, demanding to reenter the game. Kevin Braswell, who missed five of his first nine free throws, thanking God after an overtime free throw. Normally reserved Assistant Coach Ronny Thompson running out to half court to congratulate the Hoyas after the defense thwarted Virginia’s final shot in regulation. Head Coach Craig Esherick livid after the referees (who had missed plenty of calls in the first 40 minutes) would not listen to his argument that UVa.’s Adam Hall had called a non-existent timeout before the buzzer rang in first overtime. Braswell huffing and puffing his way down the court and sinking two important three-pointers in double overtime and making 10 of 12 free throws in overtime en route to an incredible 40 points. Senior Rhese Gibson, playing what could have been his final game, summoning reserve energy to sink two big free throws in double overtime. Gibson and junior walk-on Gharun Hester fighting for career highs of 13 and 10 rebounds, respectively. Anthony Perry making a game-tying three-pointer in double overtime while Esherick is pointing to a wide-open Scruggs.

And of course, the unlikely hero of the game, Hester, swishing his first career three-pointer with 31 seconds left to clinch a victory for Georgetown, sending the small Georgetown contingency – including the band and cheerleaders, who had been pelted earlier in the game by debris from some uncaring Virginians – into a frenzy.

As if the amazing game itself weren’t enough, the implications of the game, especially individually, are striking. Perry’s 12 clutch points, including a layup and a couple of three-pointers, contrasted a difficult season for the former high school All-American. Gibson’s huge double-overtime free throws, part of a career-best performance that allowed that career to continue, came two years after Gibson missed a four-foot, game-winning shot at the buzzer of an NIT second-round game against Florida.

Hester, a record-setting, all-conference wide receiver for the football team who was best-known on the hardwood for throwing a full-court inbounds pass off the half-court scoreboard in the last seconds of a Georgetown loss at Providence in 1999, became an unforgettable hero of the storied Georgetown program. And Braswell and Scruggs continued to prove themselves the heart and soul of an improving Georgetown team, demonstrating unparalleled courage to carry Georgetown to the improbable victory.

For sideline observers, the game was an incredible experience. Virginia’s faithful were somehow able to maintain a deafening decibel level despite the game’s grueling length inside an oven called University Hall. By double overtime, everyone was sweating – and not a single soul had left. Even Hall-of-Famer John Thompson, the legendary Georgetown coach who had sat stoically behind press row for most of the game, was riled up in the excitement. Finally, when Hester’s three-pointer and three free throws finally popped Virginia’s bubble, the small crew of Georgetown students that had traveled to Charlottesville from campus rushed the floor with their last remaining energy to celebrate what is definitely one of the greatest victories in school history.

Whether or not this game will be something the Hoyas will use as a building block for success next year or even the rest of the NIT, no one can really know. Georgetown, in the 2 1/2 weeks following a terrible 23-point loss to Notre Dame, has proven that it has the talent to compete with the nation’s best teams. But California, which Georgetown plays tonight in the second round, won the NIT championship last year, and this year they are right back in the NIT.

But all of this prognosticating still doesn’t interest me in the wake of Wednesday’s game. Right now, I’m still trying absorb the most exciting game I’ve ever seen.

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