Maryland vs. Georgetown is set for the next two years. Finally. They’ll play on November 17th, 2015 at XFinity Center in College Park and at Verizon Center a year later. Mark it down. It’s a top-3 sporting event on the annual local sports calendar.
They haven’t played a scheduled regular season game since 1993. The last one before that was in 1980. Despite being the two clear-cut heavyweight college basketball programs in the area, Maryland and Georgetown have played just three times in the last 34 years. What a shame.
Why they haven’t played is speculative. Unless your last name is Thompson, Driesell, or Williams, then you probably don’t know for sure. The Cliffs Notes version of the story most subscribe to goes like this. Lefty Driesell played most of the locals when Maryland was the behemoth program in the 1970’s. He beat all of them including Georgetown on a regular basis. Then Georgetown got good, beat the Terps a few times, and decided they didn’t need Maryland anymore.
Most say that the true source of the iciness between the two programs started on a cold December night in 1979 at the DC Armory. Prior to that night, Lefty’s Terps were 5-1 head-to-head against Thompson’s Hoyas. The lone Georgetown win had come the year before when the Hoyas upset a ranked Maryland team 68-65.
The December ’79 game at the Armory was the last scheduled game between the two schools for 14 years. The thought at the time was that they would figure out a way to keep the series going but Georgetown was entering the newly-formed Big East and was facing new scheduling challenges. Still, Maryland had been in the ACC and had always found a way to include Georgetown as part of their slate.
Georgetown was the ranked team the night of December 5, 1979. Maryland would ultimately rise to #5 in the country later in the season but little was expected early that year. The Terps played the game without preseason all-american center Buck Williams who was hurt.
The game was contentious throughout but the moment that may have changed the future of Maryland vs. Georgetown came in the first half. A technical foul for hanging on the rim was called on Georgetown center Ed Spriggs. Thompson was upset and while arguing with referees, he and Lefty got into a heated exchange. According to those who where there that night, Thompson cursed Lefty out. The Hoyas won the game 83-71. Thompson was in the midst of building a national pop-culture juggernaut and an eventual national champion. Playing locals, even a local with national stature, wasn’t part of his plan moving forward.
Even though their regular season matchups were dead for years to come, the Terps and Hoyas would meet later that season in the 1980 Sweet 16. The Terps were ranked 8th in the country and were the favored 2-seed. The Hoyas were ranked 11th and were seeded 3rd. The buildup for that game in Philadelphia was huge locally. In fact, I’m not sure there’s ever been a bigger local college game than that one. Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas faced Ralph Sampson’s Virginia in 1982 but that wasn’t a tournament game. This one was.
Maryland had Buck Williams back for this game and both he and Albert King were all-americans. Georgetown had Craig Shelton, John Duren, Eric Smith, and Sleepy Floyd. Eight future NBA players played in that game. King struggled mightily. The Hoyas were tougher and better. They won the game 74-68.
The series ended after that ’79-’80 season. There was talk among the school’s AD’s about a renewal in the late 80’s but Thompson didn’t want any part of it saying to the Washington Post in 1987, “I don’t remember giving two seconds of thought to playing Maryland. There are a lot of other things that I have to concern myself with.”
Somehow they renewed the rivalry for one game in 1993. The details of how that came together have been debated but the Hoyas gave the Terps, who were coming off probation, a shot.
The game was played on Georgetown’s home floor in Landover but a home game it wasn’t. Eighty percent of the 15,000+ in attendance were wearing red and white.
Gary Williams got his first signature win as Maryland’s coach that day thanks to Duane Simpkins’ runner with 2 seconds left in overtime. It’s been said that part of the deal was a return match at Cole Field House. It never happened. The ’93 game as it turned out was a one-off aberration.
Since the Maryland win in ’93, there have been two unscheduled games but neither one of them was played anywhere near the DC area. in 2001, Maryland beat Georgetown in Anaheim in the Sweet 16 en route to the Final 4. Georgetown blew out the Terps in an early-season 2008 tournament in Orlando.
There’s no telling if Maryland-Georgetown is back for good but it should be. Mark Turgeon and JT3 don’t carry the baggage of the past and seem to genuinely like each other…..at least for now.
These two Maryland-Georgetown games will be high-intensity events. The game in seven months will feature a top-5 Maryland against a top-15-20 Georgetown. XFinity Center will be juiced up for the first Terps-Hoyas game in College Park in 42 years. The following season will be a similar scene in Chinatown.
Finally this rivalry will be played, not spoken. If you want these two years to be the start of something much bigger, root for two memorable games….with no hurt feelings.