The 1991 Georgetown Hoyas began the season with great expectations and two of the best big men in college basketball. But though they often teased, they ended up riding an up-and-down roller coaster marked by missed opportunities.
Georgetown was anchored by Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo down low, both of whom would go on to stellar NBA careers and be elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. In 1991, Mourning averaged 16 points/8 rebounds per game. Mutombo averaged 15/12 with five blocks. And that’s not factoring on the intangible intimidation factor that brought, dissuading teams from even trying to attack the basket.
The supporting cast wasn’t great, but it should have been good enough for head coach John Thompson Sr. to win with. Charles Harrison knocked down 12ppg in the backcourt. A pair of freshman, Joey Brown at the point and Robert Churchwell at the wing were both decent contributors.
It’s with good reason that Georgetown was ranked #9 in the country to start the season and no one was surprised when they opened the year with a 79-74 win over eventual national champion Duke at home. But the Hoyas immediately turned around lost 71-60 to mediocre UTEP. Another loss over a very good Ohio State team, led by Jim Jackson, followed.
Conference play followed a similar pattern. Georgetown started the Big East schedule with a nice win over Seton Hall, a team that ended up a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament and reached the Sweet 16. Immediately following that was a loss to Providence, a team that was decent (finishing 19-13), but nothing special.
The pattern continued. Georgetown played well against eventual conference champion Syracuse, but narrowly lost both games. The Hoyas split with second-place St. John and also split with NCAA-bound Pitt, Villanova and Connecticut. Thompson’s team could never get a good run going and they ended the conference schedule at 8-8, in sixth place.
A season that opened with thoughts of the Final Four was now reduced to making sure they played their way into the NCAA Tournament. Once again, Georgetown teased. They opened the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden with an impressive 68-49 win over Connecticut. In the same quarterfinal round, Syracuse and St. John’s were upset. The path was open to a tournament title.
But while the Hoyas sealed their NCAA bid by blowing out Providence in the semis, they missed another opportunity with a 74-62 loss to Seton Hall.
The season was down to one last chance at redemption. Georgetown was the 8-seed in the West. If they could get by Vanderbilt in the first round, a big battle with UNLV—ranked #1, the defending national champion and undefeated—awaited in the Round of 32.
If there’s one thing that could always be said about John Thompson-coached teams it’s that they came to play in defense and they certainly came ready with the effort in Tucson. The Hoyas held Vandy to 38% shooting in the opener. Mourning finished with 23 points/8 rebounds, while Mutombo was good for 14/12, keying a decisive edge on the glass. Brown chipped in with 14 more and Georgetown won 70-60.
The Hoyas were clearly the worst possible opponent for UNLV, at least at this early stage of the tournament. And Georgetown again played defense, holding the Rebels to sub-40% shooting. They again enjoyed a rebounding edge, with Mourning grabbing eleven boards and Mutombo getting nine. But this time that wouldn’t be enough.
UNLV’s outstanding power forward Larry Johnson went for 20/10 and while Mutombo had 16 points, Mourning could not get going offensively. He only took five shots from the field and made just two. Brown and Churchwell combined to shoot 3-for-20. The Hoyas lost 62-54.
The disappointment was not in losing a competitive game to UNLV, it was a regular season that placed Georgetown low enough in the seedings that this game had to take place in the Round of 32 instead of the Final Four.
Mutombo went on to the NBA following the season, while Mourning came back for more. 1992 went a little better, with a share of the Big East regular season title. But it still ended in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The arrival of Mourning and Mutombo was supposed to signal a new glory era in Georgetown basketball. Instead, it ended simply being competitive. Perhaps no year exemplified that better than 1991.