After nearly three years apart, longtime rivals Georgetown and Syracuse reunited Saturday at Verizon Center. The Hoyas and Orange played two halves of basketball, but the scene wasn't whole. The storied programs met for the 91st time and first since 2013, but it wasn't the same.
This is undeniable, which isn't to say the scene before, during and after Georgetown's 79-72 win wasn't memorable. Different, without question. Founding members of the Big East conference, the Hoyas and Orange battled in so many important games and with ample ferocity that their games became must-watch across the country. Then Syracuse bolted for the ACC. Now the rivalry continues, but it's not the same, so says the man most responsible for the passion from the Georgetown end.
"I was very curious today about what the atmosphere would be like," former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. told CSNmidatlantic.com after the win. As with most home games, "Big John," still an imposing figure at 74, watched from a baseline seat near the Hoyas bench where his son, John Thompson III now calls the shots.
"The atmosphere was heated, competitive," he continued. "I'm glad to see that at least. It's not the same though."
College basketball is used to Jim Boeheim being on the Syracuse bench. That wasn't the case Saturday. Boeheim, Syracuse's head coach since 1976, began serving a nine-game NCAA suspension for rules infractions. Upon learning his appeal was denied, Boeheim said he was "extremely disappointed" in a statement released earlier this week.
Love him or loathe him, as many Georgetown fans historically do in mockery, there was disappointment in not having the 71-year-old pleading his case with referees and orchestrating Syracuse's attack.
Thompson said he had not spoken with his friend and adversary this week. "I like to make him mad," Thompson joked. "He's already mad."
Mad describes how Thompson felt when the Big East conference he helped form in 1979 and bring to national prominence splintered apart. Syracuse wasn't the only defection, but certainly the most notable of the departing schools.
"Kiss Syracuse goodbye," is was Thompson belted out from the back of his son's press conference on March 9, 2013 after Georgetown beat Syracuse 61-39 in the final regular season meeting between the schools. The Orange gained revenge the following week with an overtime win at the Big East Tournament.
Reflecting on Syracuse leaving, Thompson said, "I was very disappointed because as much as you dislike, as much as you compete against people, you respect the relationship. You can't be successful unless you play and compete hard against good teams like them. I was just a little disappointed. Personally, I think Jimmy was too when they left because we were the founders of the Big East."
Overall, Thompson seemed to enjoy the rematch and certainly the Georgetown win. Many of his former players attended the game. One notable standout from three Final Four teams communicated with the coach during it. "Patrick Ewing texted me during the game," Thompson revealed with a smile of a parent hearing from one of their children. "I'm not going to tell you what he said."
Georgetown and Syracuse will meet in each of the next three seasons. The 2016 game takes place at the Carrier Dome, site of many impressive wins for both Thompson's. The Hoyas won the previous matchup there earlier in 2013 as Otto Porter scored 33 points in a 57-46 victory. In that game, Georgetown defeated a Big East team. On Saturday, they did not.
"We beat an ACC team," Thompson said. "I'm used to them being in the Big East still."
He's not alone.
MORE HOYAS: GTOWN TAKES DOWN SYRACUSE