EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The son officially has risen.
After nearly three seasons of underwhelming play at Indiana and Georgetown, Patrick Ewing Jr. finally has evolved into an impact performer. Doubling his productivity over Georgetown’s last seven games, the 6-foot-8 junior forward has blossomed into one of the nation’s most dynamic sixth men and a likely X-factor in tonight’s Sweet 16 matchup between the Hoyas (28-6) and Vanderbilt (22-11).
“Pat always gets described as just an energy guy, but lately he’s begun to really show his skills and understanding out there,” Georgetown junior and Big East player of the year Jeff Green said of his closest friend on the team. “He’s our spark plug, no question. But I don’t think he gets enough credit for his skills.”
Ewing’s array of skills is somewhat surprising for a player who was considered little more than a dunker as a high school senior at National Christian Academy in Fort Washington. After spending two stunted seasons at Indiana as a player too small for the post and too raw for the perimeter, Ewing left Bloomington for his famous father’s alma mater with two mandates from the elder Ewing ringing in his ears.
“My dad told me to take care of my business in the classroom and to focus my energy on the perimeter game,” Ewing said. “He said, ‘You’re not going to make it to the next level as a big forward, so you’ve got to develop your guard skills and be able to defend guards.’ ”
Offensively, Ewing’s game has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise. Most observers expected the kind of baseline slams Ewing dropped on Boston College during Georgetown’s second-round NCAA tournament victory, albeit without the reverse clutch style points. And while remarkable given his size, perhaps even his open-court passing and dribbling skills were somewhat predictable given his impeccable pedigree. But few knew Junior had a jumper.
Statistically speaking, Ewing is the Hoyas’ second most accurate shooter from behind the 3-point arc (46.9 percent). And when the team desperately needed points in anomalous up-tempo games at Pittsburgh and against Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Big East tournament, Ewing showcased an impressive midrange game, as well. He popped in a career-high 15 points against the Irish in Georgetown’s 84-82 victory March 9.
Ewing has averaged 5.5 points and four rebounds in 22 minutes a game in NCAA tournament victories against Belmont and Boston College.
Defensively, Ewing has developed into the team’s most versatile performer, a guy who at different points this season has checked the likes of 7-foot Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray and 6-3 Marquette slasher Jerel McNeal. That versatility has made Ewing invaluable as a replacement for any of Georgetown’s foul-prone frontcourt starters (Green, Roy Hibbert and DaJuan Summers). And as was evidenced against Notre Dame in New York, Ewing gives coach John Thompson III a solution to the kind of pivot-bankrupt, 3-point-happy teams who pose defensive matchup issues for the less mobile Hibbert.
Vanderbilt is precisely such a team.
“We’ve prepared for them much like we prepared for Notre Dame,” sophomore guard Jessie Sapp said. “If we have trouble getting out on their shooters, coach might decide to go small and turn to Pat.”
Embracing the role, Ewing’s minutes have doubled of late as Thompson has leaned more on his defense and become even more cognizant of protecting Green and Hibbert in the postseason.
Well before his playing time spiked, however, Ewing held a vital leadership role as the team’s most vocal member. Though Thompson isn’t big on looking back or using the past as motivation, Ewing refused to let his teammates forget last season’s Sweet 16 heartbreak, a 57-53 loss to Florida.
“He’s kept us on point all season,” Hibbert said. “Any time anyone got too excited, he just said, ‘Remember Florida,’ and we were sort of instantly refocused.”
Said Ewing: “When we lost in the Big Ten tournament my freshman year at Indiana, I was balling in my locker, and A.J. Moye, who had just played his last collegiate game, came over to me and said, ‘Don’t ever forget how bad this hurts. Remember this feeling and harness it.’ That really stuck with me.