CHINATOWN, NW DC —
Living in the DC area comes with many pitfalls and perks. But for every accident on the GW Parkway, single tracking Metro train and random social encounters almost always starting with “so, where do you work?”, there is the embarrassment of riches that is Beltway college hoops.
Pick any random day on the calendar, and there’s often multiple games within a 25 miles radius of Capitol Street that are worthy of any blue blooded college basketball fans presence.
Just this last Saturday, you had your pick of George Mason vs George Washington in Foggy Bottom, Butler vs Georgetown in Chinatown and Michigan State vs Maryland in College Park.
Howard and American are other viable options if you want to see some D-1 hoops without leaving the Metro system. Venture a little further out and Navy, UMBC, Loyola (MD), Towson and Coppin State are all there to fill that empty, bracket shaped hole in your heart.
It was with this spirit, that I hopped on a Red Line train out of Montgomery County and rode the third rail to Chinatown. As I emerged above ground into a frigid, blustery, Martin Luther King holiday night, I wasn’t met by the usual sight of competing street musicians and ticket scalpers all fighting for the precious real estate of the corner at 7th and F Streets NW.
In their place? Loads of Georgetown students. A line to get into the student section entrance that snaked around the building and far down the block past G street. The #4 ranked Villanova Wildcats were in town, and this 9pm tip off lent itself to a warmed up crowd of Georgetown undergrads, visiting ‘Nova fans (lots) and folks like myself looking for a marquee night of basketball.
I met my compatriot Chris at the Bar Louie next to the arena. A lifetime Georgetown fan, he’s ridden the roller coaster of Hoya fandom from the late 80’s all the way to the recent Final Four appearance and all too recent tournament let downs of the John Thompson III era. When I casually make the obvious statement that a win tonight would be a boon for the Hoyas 2015 tournament resume, he doesn’t skip a beat, expressing in so many many words the life of a Hoya fan in 2015. It’s not an existence of obsessing over RPI’s or SOS’s or AP top 25’s. A win tonight is nice, but WINNING meaningful games in March is all that matters.
The Verizon Center sits prominently atop the the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station in Downtown DC. Built in 1997, the building is not exactly in the running for the 8th Wonder of the World. Hell, it might not be 8th Wonder of Prince George’s County if it were located out there, like it’s predecessor, the Capital Centre in Landover.
It’s not that Verizon Center is an awful building; it’s just very…nondescript. A much maligned Times Square style, 45 foot long digital video board was added to the 7th street NW facade. Prior, you could have mistaken the building for the IRS. However, you can’t beat the location (every Metro line runs within a 2 block radius, including three lines running through the Chinatown station) or the pre and post game drinking options (plenty) which makes you come to the realization that Verizon Center is a fine venue. It’s just that, when you look at an arena that came before it (Madison Square Garden, for instance, even before the renovations) and an arena that came after it (Prudential Center in Newark showed what can be done with what ostensibly is a cookie cutter style building) you realize that the Verizon Center falls flat.
As Chris and I made our way to our seats, the game was minutes from tipping off. I’d been to Wizards and Caps games at Verizon, but never a Georgetown game. There’s no way this is an original thought, since the Hoyas have played their home games at NBA arenas since 1981, but attending a Georgetown game just doesn’t feel like being at a college basketball game. In no way is that a negative statement, because I had a blast. Coming from the old Big East, most of those schools play in similar, off-campus environments, including the Hoyas opponent, Villanova.
Still, it’s kind of odd to watch a big time college basketball game in a 20,000 seat arena with a top deck nearly empty and Washington Capitals Southeast Division Championship banners hanging from the rafters. The pomp and circumstance of a typical college game almost seemed ironic. Hey look, here’s a cheerleader squad. Hear that? It’s a pep band being piped through the cavernous arena.
As we took our seats, any confusion of this being the setting of a big time college basketball game quickly washed away as I caught a glimpse of the announcers sitting court side for the Fox Sport 1 broadcast.
Bill Raftery & Tim Brando.
First of all, I’m downright giddy for this new pairing of college basketball announcing legends for Big East games. Who knew that TV executives were capable of such a bold move? The Louisana rooted, baritone pipes of Brando paired with the New Jersey infused, staccato idioms of Raftery, make for a broadcast that I personally find unbeatable in the college hoops world.
Aside from the court side play by play and color commentary, the Georgetown student section definitely brought their A game. The Verizon Center seating (students are only behind the baskets and not on the sidelines) doesn’t help their cause, but the Hoya faithful was out in force from tip to buzzer.
As for the game itself, the Hoyas executed a methodical, somewhat shocking, 78-58 beat down of the #4 Wildcats. In the 1st half, a 13-11 Georgetown lead with 13 minutes left swelled to 31-12 cushion with 5 minutes left. The 18-1 run was sparked by freshman Isaac Copeland, who had his coming out party in front of the announced crowd of 13,872 at Verizon Center. The 6’9” Copeland came off the bench to supply the Hoyas with a career high 17 points on 5 of 6 shooting from the field and 7 of 8 from the line.
The balanced Hoya attack saw three players crack double digits, while another three scored 8, 8 and 9. D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has been old faithful for the Hoyas and his 37 minutes on the floor showed his team just how valuable he is to them. Even though he only shot 3 of 10 from the floor, his mere presence on the floor settles the JT3 Princeton offense and his nose for the basket got him to the line 10 times. In all, a yeoman’s effort netted Smith-Rivera with 17 points including a couple of clutch 3 pointers. A lock for 1st team Big East, Smith-Rivera is a player to watch in March.
The game was plagued with fouls, 51 in all, as the 2nd half grinded away at the free throw line and not in the flow of play. An extremely chippy game got taken over by the refs, to the chagrin of the fans in attendance.
Villanova stuck with a 3/4 court press for long stretches, but their guard heavy offense couldn’t get going, save for one run in the 2nd half where they cut the Georgetown lead to 12 points.
The Wildcats three point barrage connected as often as a Red Line train to Shady Grove after the game. The folks standing on the platform would agree that would equate to rarely.
As the 20 point win was well in hand, the students predictably and understandably elbowed their way towards the court; the precursor to the court rush that comes with a victory over a conference rival who happens to be rated among the top 5 teams in the country. I’m not here to debate the merits of court rushing, but if you’re going to do it, don’t chant “OVER-RATED” five minutes prior. A team is either overrated and thus, sucks, OR they are worthy of their ranking and therefore you have every right to go berserk if your school beats them. Pick one.
Heading out into the late night, I bid Chris farewell and headed back underground to catch a carpeted train back from where I came. Thankfully, the post game transit didn’t provide anything close to the headache of my DC flavor of choice, the Nationals. A smooth ride home (once a train finally came) was peppered with optimistic Hoya fans discussing plans for their next home game (Xavier on January 27th) as well as instant analysis of the trouncing we had all just witnessed.
As Georgetown heads over the first big climb and down the rails into a very treacherous Big East schedule, many fans are wondering what this March could have in store for the Hoyas.
However, for Georgetown fans who have ridden this ride before, January victories mean squat if the team pulls another no show in March.