Words like "shocking," "stunner," and "upset" usually apply when a high-major conference team gets beat at home, decisively, by a low-major opponent. Synonyms of surprise and invocations of an electrical jolt are appropriate where a loss is not just unexpected, but could not have been contemplated before the game.
Those words do not apply to games where one team is coached by John Thompson III. Since 2008, JT3's teams have lost time and again to inferior teams that played with superior heart, training, and strategy. The opponent's guards have always been quicker, its ball movement always crisper, and its focus greater as Georgetown has routinely surrendered 20-point deficits, never to fully recover. This happens year after year after year, until the years turn into a decade.
At first, those losses were stunning, and were confined to March, the most heart-breaking time of year, to be sure, but at least one that allowed us to enjoy the four months preceding it. But those defeats have crept ever earlier, and become ever more shameful. First, there was an almost forgettable defeat in a forgettable season, to mighty Northeastern in November 2013 in Puerto Rico. Last season, the bottom completely fell out with home embarrassments to Radford, UNC-Asheville, and Monmouth, with UNC-Wilmington narrowly missing out on that non-exclusive club.
Being the punchline of a national joke is no longer an annual occurrence, it's a semi-constant one. Like any joke that gets told too often, it's no longer funny. Soon, no one will bother to repeat it.
Tonight, the Arkansas State Red Wolves overcame their season-opening defeat--at North Dakota State, by 10-- to join their non-illustrious predecessors, amassing a 20-point halftime lead over an outworked, out-coached Georgetown squad and holding off a late, spirited Hoya rally, 78-72, before a disappointed but hardly surprised Hoya crowd at McDonough Arena. Don't let the final score fool you--this was a beatdown. Arkansas State led the entire game, for most of it by double figures, and at one point by as many as 23 points before a comeback inevitably fell short. Georgetown faithful who had witnessed an actually stunning last-minute loss to Maryland on Tuesday were kicked while they were down just two days later, watching a loss that they had seen play out many times in advance, over many years.
There was no shock, no upset. Only defeat. The last-minute "Fire Thompson" chants were appropriate, if futile. Right now, the subject of those derisive chants is undoubtedly praising the Red Wolves' two high-scoring guards, swearing that they could compete at a Big East level and beyond while hoping that no one notices how tired that excuse became years ago. Don't believe it.
I'll quickly tip my cap to the players. Georgetown played hard, really hard, for the entire second half. LJ Peak was awesome offensively, and the team flew around defensively. Their execution was often flawed, and their aim often errant, but they fought until the end. Had they played that hard for 40 minutes, this game would not have been close.
But they didn't, and that lands at Thompson's feet. We've endured far too many years of this to believe his brother's shameful attempts to blame of the players during the Pravda-esque broadcast. The players have changed. We've gone big and bruising, then small and skilled, then long and athletic, then long and allegedly versatile, now athletic and allegedly energetic. The schemes have changed--first all defense and occasional offense, then all offense and no defense, then slow and unsteady, now who knows what. The uniforms have changed. The kente has changed. Shit, presidents have changed. The coach, and the disappointments, have not.
And the problems are all still there. Georgetown sleepwalks through twenty-plus minutes without an adjustment or a counter-punch, content instead to roll over while the other team rolls up a massive lead. The Hoyas fail to stay in front of ball-handlers, can't close out, over-help, and in turn open up weak-side shooters and baseline cutters to the tune of 48 points in the damn first half. There's precious little action to open up space in the half-court offense, other than the occasional, meek screen that is just as likely to lead the ball-handler into a trap or a charge as it is to result in a basket. There's no will, no ability to stop disaster from unfolding, one minute at a time, until no comeback would suffice.
Maybe it will change. Maybe Marcus Derrickson will get healthy or Bradley Hayes will get eligible and big dudes will grab defensive rebounds. Maybe outside shots will fall more consistently as the season wears on. Maybe there are kinks that just need to be worked out in a new system. Maybe the coach will understand what personnel to deploy in which situations as he tries to revamp both an offense and a defense that became stale years before he admitted they needed changing.
But at this point we'd all be foolish to believe it. We've seen far too much disappointment to believe that things will get better. The man at the head of the program doesn't give an honest accounting or take ownership, instead blaming a "difficult schedule" for an inability to beat Arkansas freaking State. And we don't need to believe it. We can walk away. And whoever was still left after 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2016 may have just walked away tonight.
*Yes, it was Arkansas, not Arkansas State, that played 40 Minutes of Hell. But boy that is a sweet headline.