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Tournament Throwback: #8 Villanova vs. #1 Georgetown (1985)

Villanova upset the vaunted Hoyas to capture the school’s first National Championship

Given the cancellation of this year’s NCAA Tournament, we have decided to use the next few weeks to look back and remember Villanova’s greatest tournament successes of the past. We will be walking through Villanova’s three National Championships on a game-by-game basis. So, as you’re locked inside quarantining and social distancing, share your thoughts, memories, and stories as we relive Villanova’s greatest moments.

#8 Villanova Wildcats vs. #1 Georgetown Hoyas

National Championship

April 1, 1985

Game Watch

Tune in to the VUHoops’ screening of the 1985 National Championship between #8 Villanova and #1 Georgetown TONIGHT AT 7:00 p.m. EST.

The game should play simultaneously for all who are watching so please take part in the live game chat!

Link: VUHoops Re-Watch

How Villanova Upset Georgetown


It is necessary to clarify something right away: Villanova’s 66-64 stirring upset victory over Georgetown in the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship Monday night should not be likened to North Carolina State’s unexpected 54-52 triumph over Houston in the 1983 title game.

It’s not even close.

For one thing, the Hoyas and their coach, John Thompson, were a vastly better team than those Cougars, who were making their first appearance in the championship game. And unlike the Cougars, who hurt themselves by going to a delay game with too much time remaining and missing several free throws in the final minutes, the Hoyas played creditably. They shot 55 percent from the field, hitting 29 of 53 shots; committed only five turnovers in the second half and got balanced scoring with double figures from four players.

Anyone would be hard-pressed to find another basketball game - at any level - in which both teams played so well with so much at stake, and in which one of them, in this case the Wildcats, was perfect.

That is not an exaggeration. After converting 13 of 18 shots and 3 of 4 free throws in the first half to build a 29-28 lead, Villanova put on a display of offensive execution, defensive perseverance and mental fortitude in the second half that will be long remembered and cherished. The Wildcats made good on 9 of 10 shots from the floor - the forward Dwayne McClain, who scored a game-high 17 points going 5 for 7 from the field, missed the lone shot, a 10-footer, about midway through the half - and 19 of 23 free throws. For the game, they shot an unprecedented 78.6 percent on 22 of 28 from the field, which established a tournament and championship-game record, and 81.5 percent from the free-throw line on 22 of 27. Even so, and this is testimony as to how well the Hoyas played, they won by only one basket.

Defensively, the Wildcats held the Hoyas, probably the nation’s most potent transition team this season, to only one fast-break basket. And they did that by holding Georgetown to only seven defensive rebounds after the defending champions had averaged twice that many in their three previous tournament games.

How could this happen to Georgetown, which had led the nation by holding opponents to 39 percent shooting until the final game.

Unlike most knowledgeable and now, red-faced observers, the Wildcats believed they could defeat the Hoyas. They lost twice to Georgetown in two games during the regular season, but both were close. Indeed, the first was a 52-50 overtime loss. So, on the afternoon of the game, when Coach Rollie Massimino asked his players to find a secluded place where they could convince themselves that they could win, it was not a difficult thing to do.

’’I wanted them to think about two things,’’ Massimino said. ‘’One, to play not with the idea not to lose, but play to win. Second, I wanted them to tell themselves they were good enough to win.’’

But the most difficult thing for any team to do all season against the Hoyas was to transform belief into reality: using patience to get high percentage shots, then making them; blocking out underneath the boards, then snaring the loose balls; and, most importantly, refusing to become rattled by the Hoyas’ overwhelming talent.

There were several moments that typified each of those factors. The first occurred less than five minutes into the contest when, after the Hoyas scored 6 straight points to take a 10-6 lead, the Wildcats’ fiery point guard, Gary McLain, committed a turnover trying to force the ball past the Hoyas’ Michael Jackson and was charged with traveling. To Massimino, that was a critical play because of how McLain responded.

’’He came right over to me and said that he lost the ball and he knew it,’’ the coach said, adding that McLain was the most ‘’unsung player in the tournament.’’ McLain, who spent much of his career in the shadow of more noted Big East Conference point guards such as Jackson, and Dwayne (Pearl) Washington of Syracuse, committed only two turnovers in the final game while playing the full 40 minutes.

That traveling violation was the Wildcats’ fourth turnover. They committed one more in the next few minutes, but under McLain’s patient guidance, they attained shots that were well within the ranges of their best scorers. As a result, they converted 9 of their first 10 attempts to tie the game at 20-all, and none of the shots was from farther away than the free-throw line.

The next challenge occurred near the end of the half when the Hoyas’ 7-foot all-America center, Patrick Ewing, exploded from inside Villanova’s sagging zone for three straight thunderous dunks. Such an exhibition has broken many Hoya foes because, as McLain says, ‘’they start acting like sharks sniffing blood.’’

But the Wildcats followed each dunk with baskets of their own to stay close until they took their first lead, 29-28, when the forward Harold Pressley grabbed his own missed shot and scored with 5 seconds left in the half.

The Wildcats made two minor technical adjustments that turned out to be critical in the second half. One was to counter Georgetown’s heralded full-court defensive pressure with deception.

They lined up four players parallel to the free-throw line near the middle of the backcourt and then, instead of passing the ball inbounds to Pinckney, their 6-9 1/2 center, as they had done for most of the season, or to McLain, their playmaker, they slipped it in to McClain or Pressley, who dribbled ahead aggressively.

The other adjustment was to station Pinckney near the basket on the right side of the foul lane, then send him cutting into the middle after a teammate, usually Pressley, had driven into the key and looked to shoot. That strategy led to some quick passes to Pinckney, who was free for shots. He scored 6 points during an 8-2 surge that gave the Wildcats a 53-48 lead with 6 minutes 2 seconds left.

The lead had changed hands eight times to that point as play reached a level that is rarely attained. Both teams were unyielding, especially he Hoyas, who momentarily cooled the Wildcats with a string of 6 straight points and regained the lead, 54-53, with 4:48 remaining on a 16-footer by the guard David Wingate.

But that fire that had carried the Wildcats through five other tournament victories was not doused. It was roused again by the sophomore guard Harold Jensen, who, after shooting only 40.5 percent in the team’s first 30 games, nailed 8 of 11 in the Final Four, including all 5 of his shots in the championship game.

His 18-footer and two free throws ignited another 6-0 streak that put the Wildcats ahead by 59-54 with 1:24 left.

When the Wildcats tried to run their delaying game, the Hoyas added another burden by sending them to the free-throw line six times in the final 1:10, and they converted 7 of 10 shots.

’’Needless to say, this is probably the greatest moment in Villanova basketball history,’’ said Massimino, whose team entered the Final Four as the only one with more than three losses. ‘’I’m extremely elated, proud and thankful for everything this year.’’

ROLLIE MASSIMINO: Ask the kids, and they’ll tell you they wanted to play Georgetown rather than St. John’s in the final. I wouldn’t have minded St. John’s.

PINCKNEY: I’ll tell you this: If we played St. John’s, you’d probably be talking to somebody else for this story. As great as Georgetown was, we didn’t know if we could beat them, but we knew we could stay close with them, at least.

MCCLAIN: St. John’s didn’t just kind of have our number that year, they definitely had our number. It was just a bad matchup with Walter Berry. He gave us nightmares. Chris Mullin was contained, pretty much, and Mark Jackson and Bill Wennington were guys we had an answer for, but we did not have an answer for Berry.

PRESSLEY: I felt that way more so than anybody else. There was just something about his style of play and his strength and athletic ability —maybe the left hand — that had me off balance. It was always like, “Are you kidding me?” I’d have my hand in his face and tip his shot and it would still go down. So yeah, no, I did not want to see Walter again.

PINCKNEY: Still, I don’t want to say it was relief that we were playing Georgetown, because after they demolished St. John’s (77-59 in the other semifinal), my parents, both of them, said, “Well this has been a great run. It’s been really nice. Too bad it’s got to be over.” Nobody thought we were winning that game except us.

WILSON: The day of the game, there was even an article in the local paper out there that said there would be a Martian in the White House before we won.

MCCLAIN: Georgetown was America’s darling, the No. 1 team in the country, and with the best player in Patrick Ewing. So for people to hear that we wanted Georgetown to win that ballgame, they thought we were crazy. But I felt that the stars had aligned for us and it was our time. When Georgetown beat St. John’s, we collectively looked at each other like we had already won the national championship.

LAPPAS: (Former Villanova coach) Al Severance passed away at the team hotel the morning of the championship game, and I’ll never forget, during our pregame meal, Rollie saying that Al would be up there swatting shots off the rim from heaven.

ROLLIE MASSIMINO: It was a terrible blow because Al and I were good friends and he was very, very receptive to everything we did. He purposely came down to see the game and he was shaving and all of a sudden he passed. We were all distraught but we had to play on and do the best we could.

BUONAGURO: Rollie told the kids, “At the end of this meal, I want you to go back to your room, close your eyes and think about cutting the nets down.”

EVERSON: Coach Mass told us before the game to think about two things: One, anybody can beat anybody on a given night, and two, he wanted us to play the game to win instead of playing not to lose, essentially telling us to go for it. We were not afraid of the Hoya Paranoia and all that other stuff. We’d been down the road with these guys numerous times.

BUONAGURO: Eddie Pinckney had always played well against Patrick Ewing. Eddie enjoyed playing against Ewing because he had to live with all the “Ewing is the best player in the country” talk — and he was — but Eddie was the kind of guy that would relish that. He took that and played with a chip on his shoulder and wanted to prove he could play with this guy.

HARRINGTON: We knew that Ewing was one of the greatest college players of all time, but Eddie did not have an ounce of fear of Patrick. Not an ounce. Look at the stats over the course of the years, and Ed played Patrick as well as anybody in college.

PINCKNEY: If you never saw them play before, there’s no way you could simulate Patrick. We would practice against seven, eight defenders sometimes for upcoming games against them and their full-court press. So when you do that for several years, there’s a comfort level in playing against them. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win, but it does mean you’ll at least be able to get the ball over halfcourt and maybe get into your offense.

BOOTH: Going into that game that night, we knew if Gary McLain could not handle the pressure, we were in deep trouble. We had no one else in my mind or in any other coach’s mind that could do that.

PINCKNEY: It’s like you took a deep breath when you took the ball out of bounds and then held it while Gary was bringing the ball up. Their pressure defense — there is nothing like it in college basketball now. I coached in college, and there was nothing like it. Maybe the 40 minutes of hell in Arkansas, but after that, nobody pressed like that. They had great athletes and size and lateral quickness and then at the end of the press they had the ultimate rim protector. Every time Gary got to the half court line, you would exhale.

MCLAIN: It’s one of those things where, if you’re blessed to play in a game the magnitude of that one, you can’t get overwhelmed by the dynamic of it being March Madness. And more importantly, you just have to do what you know how to do.

ROLLIE MASSIMINO: I got on Eddie Pinckney about how he was going to have trouble with Patrick Ewing. He was sick that day, so I told him “What, you get sick so you don’t have to play against Patrick?” But he played great.

LAPPAS: Pat, when he was in college, you feared him for what he did defensively. He was a way different pro. It was almost unbelievable to me that he became this tremendous jump shooter as a center because in college he wasn’t a huge scorer. I think he averaged like 14 points a game his senior year. So I think you were more afraid of what Patrick did defensively. He could practically play five guys by himself because he was such a great rim protector and shot blocker.

EVERSON: Pres scored on our end to give us the lead with a few seconds left in the half, and they’re pushing the ball down the court and time is running out, and David Wingate’s got the ball. All I could see in my mind is Wingate putting a shot up and having someone tip the ball in, and then I would have caught the wrath of Coach Mass at halftime. So when I saw Reggie breaking hard down the middle of the lane, coming pretty much full speed, I turned and put a clean box-out on him — a hard box-out because there was no way I was letting him tap the ball in on me at the buzzer so I could get yelled at at halftime. So Reggie turned around and came up and put his hands in my face, kind of half-slapped me, half-pushed me, and took off running. So coach uses that, and he runs off and he’s pumping his fist going into the locker room.

PINCKNEY: There’s a lot of tension in the game anyway, but it just adds to it when there’s an incident that you can tie to the other team. Everybody is looking for ammunition to give you an edge to play harder, and that was it for us, with Chuck.

EVERSON: I didn’t realize it was a big turning point in the game, during the heat of the moment, until I got to my locker at the end of the game and I’ve got 25 or 30 reporters hovering around me, asking about what happened.

PLANSKY: We definitely realized how well we were shooting. Dwight and I were on the bench halfway through the half and we look at each other and he’s saying, “Skee, why aren’t we back in the game?” I said, “Back in? I haven’t even been in yet. Plus, we haven’t missed,” and he said, “OK, yeah, good point.” As long as we’re not missing shots, I don’t mind being on the bench.

PRESSLEY: You had to mentally stay in the game from start to finish with Georgetown, because once you let down ever so slightly, that’s when they’d go on their run. But that game, we never had one of those lulls. That’s why they called off the press a few times (in the second half) because they knew we were going to break it. They had to. You’re making your team tired and not getting anything out of it. People kind of barked at the fact that John Thompson took it off, but what was he going to do?

LAPPAS: People always says we held the ball, but Georgetown was the ones who decided to start holding the ball with about four minutes to go, (and a 54-53 lead) and it turned out that the key turnover in the game came a short time into it, when David Wingate passed the ball of Broadnax’s foot, we stole it and scored. That’s how we really got control of the game.

JENSEN: They were playing four corners, but we were happy to be in a one-point game with them holding the ball with just a few minutes left. If you said before that game, “Hey guys, I’ll give you down one, them with the ball, with three and a half to go,” we’d have taken that in a heartbeat.

ROLLIE MASSIMINO: Broadnax called their last timeout with 40 seconds left, and with maybe 10 seconds left (and Villanova leading 65-62 with Pressley at the line) I called time out. Back then, they had a running clock, so when the ball went through the basket, it continued on, where now it stops. So 10 seconds, we call time out, and I said “Guys, you’re going to win the national championship. Just don’t foul, let them come down, it’s going to take five seconds to come down and shoot the ball and make it, and then just leave the ball alone, and by the time the ref gets to a five-second count, the game will be over and we win.”

PINONE: Pres made the first and missed the second, so they’re down four at the time and they come down and score with four or five seconds left on the clock (to make it 66-64) and Harold Jensen, smartly, is not picking the ball up, because once he picks it up the five-second clock starts. And while he’s walking over to the ball, Wingate punches it into the stands, and now the referee has to stop the clock because the ball is in the stands.

ROLLIE MASSIMINO: I called another timeout (with the clock now stopped at two seconds) and I’m just shaking I’m so mad. It should have been a technical foul and we should have won already, and now they’ve at least got a chance to tie. But I get my guys ready and I said “OK, let’s get it to Dwayne.”

JENSEN: That was the first option, Dwayne breaking to the ball, to the corner. The next choice would have been to throw it to halfcourt and let someone bang it around and take a 50-footer. We’d had one or two five-second calls, and I’d been inbounding the ball the whole game, which was not an easy job against them. I didn’t want to get another, obviously, in that situation, so I’m counting in my head, “One, two, three…” and I’ve got to get rid of it. I’m either throwing it to half court or I’m throwing it to him, and he looked open enough to me.

MCCLAIN: I told Harold “Put the ball in my hands.” I knew I had been shooting it well from the foul line (McClain missed one free throw in 25 tries during the tournament), and I really didn’t want to give them a chance to execute their defense. Making a move to get the ball, I actually stumbled and fell, but even though I fell, Harold still threw me the ball, and once I corralled it, I wasn’t going to let it go. I was just waiting for that clock to expire.

JENSEN: I knew that Dwayne was a very smart guy, and I knew that he wouldn’t try to get up.

PINCKNEY: You can’t describe the range of emotions after you win. In a matter of two or three hours, you have your game prep, your walkthrough and you’re talking about what you’ve got to do, to the actual game where the emotions are totally off the charts, and now it’s like celebration time. It’s the whole Jim Valvano moment. You’re running around looking for people to hug, just running aimlessly, jumping on tables. You want to clone yourself because the range of emotions is so high.

EVERSON: Winning that game was a feeling of euphoria that you’ve never, ever, ever experienced in your life. I had never cried just pure tears of joy until that moment. It was unbelievable.

LAPPAS: We believed it but we didn’t believe it. I mean, I was a high school coach coach the year before, so I couldn’t even fathom that I was there. It was an out-of-body experience.

R.C. MASSIMINO: The thing I remember most was, when it was all over, taking a shower and getting on the bus and wondering who we were going to play next and realizing that there was no next. Every single year, you go to the tournament, you lose a game, you go home, clean out your locker and wait until next season. And here, we beat Georgetown, and the next thing you know, there’s nobody else. I just remember that being a strange feeling, but such a great, great way to end the season.

Recommended Reading:

The Perfect Game by Tim Layden

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Philadelphia Daily News

Daily News

Los Angeles Times

Sports Illustrated