When the Smith Center erupted in cheers Sunday afternoon, it was for more than a Colonials’ basketball victory over the University of Dayton.
During halftime of the Men’s game, graduate student Matt Baron won a 1998 Pontiac Grand Am when he hit a layup, foul shot, three-pointer and half-court shot in less than 30 seconds.
Pontiac also will contribute $5,000 to the University Scholarship Fund.
With his lucky shots Sunday, Baron became the first GW student to win Pontiac’s contest, and only the second student to win the contest in its two years in the area.
Baron was chosen by a cheerleader from his seat in the stands a half-hour before tip-off, which he said made it difficult for him to concentrate on the first half of the game. But, Baron said, when he stepped onto the court, he was ready.
“I was glad the anxiety was over and I was ready to play ball,” he said.
Baron missed his first layup and a foul shot, but bounced back by hitting his three-pointer on the first try. With only six seconds left on the clock, Baron took his time behind the line, setting himself up for a “lucky” half-court chuck.
The sell-out Smith Center crowd of 5,454 exploded when Baron hit the shot. He kept the basketball as a souvenir.
A former manager of the Colonial women’s basketball team, Baron said being chosen to win the Pontiac Scholarship Challenge – a contest held during every GW home game – was like being “touched by an angel.
“I dedicate this to (women’s basketball Coach) Joe McKeown because he has helped me a lot,” said Baron, a student in the School of Public Health and Health Services. “I probably wouldn’t have stayed in college or be in graduate school if it were not for him.”
After traveling with the Colonial women for two years, Baron said he is used to being on the basketball court, though he said he has never played organized ball. He claims, however, to be three for three in his shot attempts from half court.
Baron said he plans to sell the car to his parents so he can pay off his credit card bills, but he said he is considering buying “an old junker” for himself.
The shooting contest, said Pat Morrissey, director of communications for General Motors’ Washington office, is intended not only to support the University’s general scholarship fund and to promote Pontiac’s automobiles, but to support community involvement by giving away basketball tickets to local groups.
And Pontiac makes a scholarship donation for each shot a student makes in the 30-second contest.
The program has produced close to $95,000 for the five D.C. area schools, Morrissey said. Georgetown, Howard, American and George Mason Universities also participate in the program.
After no students won the contest with a 25-second time limit last season, Pontiac raised the time to 30 seconds.
Morrissey said the insurance policy responsible for paying for the cars will review the tape before presenting the prize.
Dan Bierwirth, director of marketing and promotion for the GW Athletic Department, said the baskets all were good.
“Look at the tape and see,” Bierwirth said. “(The half-court shot) was well behind the line.”
A tired Baron said of the excitement of the week, “It’s not as easy to sleep with a basketball as you might think.”