Before Patrick Ewing was the head coach at Georgetown University, he was arguably the top player in program history. Ewing had a dominant four-year career with the Hoyas, winning AP Player of the Year in 1985 and the school’s only national championship the year prior. He averaged 15.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 3.4 blocks over four seasons before getting selected as the top pick in the 1985 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks.
Even though Ewing eventually became a Knicks icon, New York wasn’t always kind to the 7-footer. In fact, there’s no better example of the hostility he faced than when he and the rest of the Hoyas took on their arch-rival Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in January 1985.
Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas owned Syracuse
Even though the Big East conference is no more, the rivalry between Georgetown and Syracuse lives on. Since their first meeting in 1930, the two schools have played 94 times, most recently in January 2021. Syracuse holds the 51-43 all-time advantage. but it was a different story when Ewing was in school.
Syracuse and Georgetown played 11 times between 1982 and 1985, Ewing’s era. Out of those 11 games, the Hoyas won eight. And they weren’t particularly close either, as Georgetown’s victories came by an average of 13 points. Meanwhile, Syracuse’s three wins were decided by less than five points.
The Hoya/Orange rivalry also got a little physical. The most memorable incident was at the 1985 Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden, the same arena Ewing would call home for 15 years. Ewing and Syracuse guard Dwayne “Pearl” Washington were running down the court when Ewing elbowed Pearl in the ribs. Washington then elbowed Ewing in the gut, causing the center to throw a punch that barely missed the 6-foot-2 guard.
“Dwayne was just lucky that he ducked,’’ said former Syracuse player Howard Triche. “I don’t know if he saw it coming or it was just instinct, but he’s lucky he ducked out of the way or he’d have no head.’’
“We had a lot of battles,” Ewing said years later when looking back on the rivalry. “It’s been a heated rivalry. I think it was something great for the Big East. Two great programs, two great universities, battling against each other.”
A Syracuse fan tossed something toward Ewing
On January 28, 1985, the defending champion Hoyas made their way to the Carrier Dome to battle Syracuse. A little over three minutes into the game, the soon-to-be Player of the Year Ewing stepped up to the free-throw line. While he tried to tune out the rowdy fans trying to distract him, one thing did get his attention: A single orange.
With Ewing at the line, a 19-year-old fan named Frank Strange hurled an orange from his seat and into the back of the backboard, splattering everywhere. The distracted big man missed the shot, but afterward Georgetown coach John Thompson pulled his team off of the floor. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim then took the microphone and told the student section that if anything else came flying from the stands, he would ask the referees to call a technical foul against his own team. After the brief delay, Ewing was awarded an extra foul shot, which he made.
Soon after the incident, the search was on for the mysterious orange tosser. (h/t: The Daily Orange)
Between sections 101 and 102 where Strange was seated 20 rows up, stadium security frantically searched for the culprit after Ewing’s shot rimmed out. “Thank God they didn’t have cell phones or anything back then,” Strange quipped, “because we would have gotten thrown out.” Fans around Strange pointed toward him and his friends. Nerves kicked in and Strange looked at his friends before pointing toward random people in the crowd. Whatever worked, so they didn’t get thrown out. Security was never able to figure out who exactly did it. There was no proof and no one knew for sure — except Strange and his friends.Charlie DiSturco
The good news for Syracuse is that despite the messy start, they prevailed in the end. The Orange took down Ewing’s Hoyas 65-63, thanks to a late game-winner from Washington.
Both Ewing and Strange remember the orange toss
It has been over 36 years since the piece of fruit splattered behind the backboard at the Carrier Dome. But neither Ewing nor Strange have forgotten about it.
“I remember shooting the free throw and an orange hitting the backboard,” Ewing said to Syracuse.com. “I thought, ‘Are you kidding me? This is crazy!'”
Strange, now in his mid-50’s, is reminded of the moment constantly. According to The Daily Orange, he is still asked about the throw whenever he attends games. He even receives anniversary texts from some of his friends every January 28. But whenever Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas come to town, Strange has thought about bringing an orange for the Hall of Famer to sign.
“I have a feeling,” Strange said, “he’d probably smash it over my head.”
All statistics courtesy of Sports Reference.