In with the new for GW hoops

Never a dull moment.

It’s the only thing that’s been consistent in this heart-racing, heartbreaking 1999-2000 GW men’s basketball season.

Game after game has been filled with exciting talent, drama, emotion and, more often than not, some of the wildest swings of momentum anyone could ever ask for. But with the conference season just underway, the Colonials (6-9, 0-2 in the Atlantic 10) have suffered through a brutal non-conference slate. Seven of their first eight games have been played away from home for the first time in 36 years, and there is not one home game while students are in class until Jan. 26. They have seen their NCAA Tournament hopes dim so far that an National Invitational Tournament bid is now an iffy proposition (a team must have a .500 record to qualify).

After dropping six of eight since winning the BB&T Classic with a win over then-No. 24 Maryland, the Colonials have their worst record in a decade. And a team that already had a small margin for error need only look to the end of its bench at the players in street clothes to see a big reason why.

Junior guard Mike King missed six games with an injury he sustained to his shoulder in the game against Siena College, but he said Monday he intends to play Wednesday at St. Joseph’s (see box).

In addition, third-year player Patrick Ngongba was forced to have a pin inserted in the middle finger of his shooting hand and is not only out for the season, but his GW career is quite possibly over. He entered GW as a partial qualifier, and in the Byzantine world of NCAA regulations, that means he has only three years of eligibility unless he meets certain requirements. Athletic Director Jack Kvancz said last week the University will not know Ngongba’s status with the NCAA until May, when he finishes his work this semester.

Also, sophomore Dorien Brown has been sidelined off and on with a preexisting fracture on his right foot. Surgery may be in order, and he is now out indefinitely.

Freshman sensation SirValiant Brown leads the country in scoring at 25.6 points per game. However, he played several games around New Year’s with an illness and has had his play severely hampered since the Old Dominion University game with a deep bruise on his backside that makes movements like walking and bending difficult.

He’s got a hell of a lump just above his butt, Coach Tom Penders said. Ninety percent of college players would be out a month, but Val wants to play.

As long as King is on the bench, the Colonials have just eight scholarship players and 11 players overall. With the injuries mounting, Penders has gone to previously unexplored areas of his bench (playing the walk-ons, particularly freshman Arthur Andrews, with some regularity). The injuries to Ngongba and King have destroyed substitution patterns and forced those left to play cautiously on defense for fear of foul trouble. Freshman Chris Monroe, who Penders wanted as a bench player, has started for King, and all three guards have basically been playing every minute of every game.

Our kids come out to play, but when they know they’re gonna play 40 minutes, it’s hard for them emotionally, said Penders. Val looks at me like he wants a rest, and I look the other way, because who are we gonna put in?

Some impressive wins and the media hype over SirValiant Brown kept the Colonials at the forefront of early NCAA talk. However, a crushing loss in the final hours of 1999 to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte handed GW its second non-conference home loss for the first time since the 1-27 season of 1988-’89. It also effectively ended hopes the Colonials could win consistently without a healthy team.

Although Coach Tom Penders had called this a rebuilding season from the early-goings, GW’s ranking in the unofficial Ratings Percentage Index (which the NCAA uses to select Tournament teams) was still in the 30s even after a wild loss to Siena College that ended a 14-game home winning streak. The RPIs rely heavily on strength of schedule, and GW’s schedule at that point ranked second in the country only to the University of Iowa. However, a team has to win some of those tough games to keep its lofty ranking. That grew harder and harder after the injuries, an inability to win on the road (where GW is 1-4), an inability to close out wins (GW has led in the second half of seven of its nine losses), and a sudden lack of home-court advantage (GW is 2-3 at the Smith Center) all caught up with the Colonials.

Basically, though, the Colonials are just allowing too many points. Though the Colonials are scoring an Atlantic 10 best 79.7 points, they’re allowing an A-10 worst 80.7 points. In addition, opponents are shooting 47.2 percent against the Colonials and a staggering 39.7 percent from three-point range.

Penders has said that learning to play good defense is the biggest hurdle for a young player.

I think the intensity, the speed, the sophistication of the college game is an adjustment for all of them, he said. If you don’t play defense, if you let down – it’ll cost you at this level.

The crux of GW’s game in the past year and a half has been the ability to overcome consistently low shooting percentages by forcing turnovers, but GW has only been able to force opponents into seven more turnovers a game, not enough to overcome the shooting (39.4 percent and 27.6 percent on threes).

Whenever percentages are being discussed, SirValiant Brown is a key component, as he takes 36 percent of GW shots and makes only a third of them. Penders stresses that opponents are able to key on Brown as GW has few other offensive threats.

We don’t have any other options, Penders said. It’s tough. It’s tough on him, but it’ll make him a better player for the long haul. And Shawnta Rogers only shot 38 percent. Let’s not forget that. You have to be real careful. You don’t want to ruin his confidence. He’s a hell of a player, and hopefully, we can take some of the pressure off by bringing in recruits.

The difference between good players and great players is making questionable shots sometimes.

Now, GW’s record stands at 6-9, and the program is off to its first 0-2 A-10 start since the 1992-’93 season. The three-game losing streak that ran from the UNCC game through the ODU and Duquesne games was GW’s first under Tom Penders while the three-game home losing streak that ended against American was the Colonials’ first since the 1989-’90 season.

Despite the record and the sinking short-term expectations, long-term hope springs eternal because of the often spectacular play of the newcomers – Brown, junior point guard Bernard Barrow and particularly Chris Monroe, have all put up impressive numbers. Monroe earned his first A-10 Rookie of the Week award Monday, while Brown set an A-10 record by winning the first four Rookie of the Week awards this season.

In the frontcourt, sophomore Albert Roma has been starting at center since the Duquesne game, while senior Francisco de Miranda, who has lately seen his playing time diminish, is 10th in the nation in field goal percentage (65 percent). The Colonials are outrebounded on a fairly consistent basis, but Monroe has carried the team with his 6.2 average. Other than Monroe, who Penders calls our best inside player, the frontcourt has yet to prove to the coaching staff that it is capable of point production besides in a cleanup role.

But analyzing statistics means less and less for a team that every game looks more and more toward the future. For most of the players, it’s become Basketball 101 with Professor Penders, and the classroom is filling up (see related story on recruits, p. 15). The Colonials now have at least 15 games left that they can use for experience and possibly as a chance to surprise some opponents. And with King’s return appearing imminent, GW can be competitive in what’s turning out to be a balanced A-10. But for now, with the pressure basically off to earn an NCAA bid, it’s the freshmen’s turn to show everyone why they just might want to stick around for the long haul.

The Colonials continue on the road for upcoming A-10 tilts at S
t. Joseph’s (Wednesday) and Dayton (Saturday) before hosting St. Bonaventure Jan. 26.

Virginia Tech 82, GW 72
Saturday, Jan. 15

BLACKSBURG, VA. – The Colonials played their last conference road game against soon-to-be Big East Conference member Virginia Tech Saturday and left Cassell Coliseum the same way they’ve left it so many times before – with a loss.

GW had only won twice in 17 games at Cassell dating back to the arena’s inaugural year in 1962 and never came close to breaking that trend Saturday in this isolated college town nestled in the hills of Western Virginia.

In front of 2,726 fans, Tech (8-7, 2-2 in the A-10) took full advantage of GW’s poor inside play. The Hokies as a team recorded six dunks, as GW had no answer for the frontcourt, led by sophomore forward Dennis Mims, who scored 25 points rather effortlessly on 10-of-12 shooting.

They punished us inside, said Penders. We didn’t get any breaks today. We needed a few.

GW did start with better penetration and dishing than in recent games, and pressed for the second straight game, which Penders said was an effort to start doing some of the things that we’ll be doing in the future.

With eight minutes left in the first half and GW up 16-13, Tech made its move, tying the game with a three-pointer and then adding a 13-4 run that GW was never able to overcome. The Colonials could never cut the lead to less than six the rest of the afternoon.

Chris Monroe was responsible for seven turnovers but still led the Colonials with 22 points and three three-pointers. SirValiant Brown was 6-for-20 and scored 20 points (five of which came in the last 11 seconds of the game).

Virginia Tech (who has been an A-10 member since the 1995-’96 season) now leads the all-time series with GW 35-34. In A-10 play, GW leads the series 5-4.

GW 83, American 72
Wednesday, Jan. 12

The Eagles from American were just what the Colonials needed to get a win and the reassurance that no matter whatever else has happened, GW’s not yet ready to lose to its baby sister from Tenleytown.

The Colonials were happy to break their losing streak, but the pace of the game (that saw 57 free throw attempts and 22 misses) left the 3,171 fans in attendance with little to cheer about in an atmosphere that was enlivened only by the volume of the small but determined American fan contingent.

GW once again started strong, running out to a 19-4 lead, and once again allowed a comeback – but this time never relinquished the lead.

American, who entered the game at 6-7, cut into GW’s 42-33 halftime with a 10-2 run but could not overcome GW’s freshmen and the Colonials’ free-throw shooting down the stretch.

Chris Monroe, who scored GW’s first 11 points, had 24 overall and 13 rebounds. While SirValiant Brown entered the final 11 minutes with only nine points, he dropped in 20 after that to lead GW to the victory, its ninth straight over American, dating back to a loss in 1989.

In the decisive final seven minutes that saw GW open up a tight 65-64 game, the Colonials recovered from a 2-of-11 start at the free-throw line to hit 17 straight.

Ronald Hearns, son of boxer Thomas Hearns, had a career-high 30 points for American, and set a Smith Center record with seven three-pointers.

Junior forward Antxon Iturbe had 10 rebounds and eight points, including two long jumpers. Albert Roma started his second consecutive game and had six blocks.

Senior Andrew Lisi nailed a halfcourt shot in the first half to win a free plane ticket from US Airways.

Duquesne 94, GW 89
Saturday, Jan. 8

Perhaps it can get no lower for the Colonials than to lose at home to perennial patsy Duquesne, but it happened. A third consecutive head coach left the Smith Center answering the perhaps unwarranted question, Is this your greatest win ever?

No visitor to the Smith Center had ever scored more points in the first half than Duquesne did en route to a 59-46 lead at the break. The surprising 6-6 Dukes did not seem a likely candidate for such a feat, at least if history was worth noting. GW had not lost an A-10 opener since 1993-’94, had not lost three in a row at home in a decade and had not lost to Duquesne in the last 10 tries – and not at the Smith Center since 1992. And, of course, most memorably, the Dukes lost 109-57 at the Smith Center just a year ago.

But little of that seemed to matter as Duquesne shot 9-for-12 on three-pointers in the first half and seemed well on its way to handing GW its most humiliating blowout loss in recent memory when GW, for the fourth time in the last five games, made an astounding comeback to take the lead – only to fold again and taste defeat.

In the first half, the Dukes’ momentum was slowed when Penders made a move he characterized as Why not? and put in three walk-ons: senior Sam Anyan, Arthur Andrews and senior Mark Lund. They responded by hitting their first four shots (an Andrews putback, a Lund fadeaway, and a jumper and 10-foot baseline hook from Anyan), cutting the Duquesne lead in half.

With 15 minutes left in the game, though, the Dukes were firmly in control again, staked to a 72-55 lead. But just when the replacement high school cheerleaders were beginning to long for the higher quality basketball they’re used to, the Colonials awoke from their hibernation and rampaged out to a 21-2 run over the next seven minutes – taking a 76-74 lead. The 3,495 fans finally had something to cheer about, but GW relaxed and Duquesne answered with an 8-0 run, never trailing again. Bernard Barrow missed a three-point try with three seconds left that would have tied the game.

This is probably one of our biggest wins (since I’ve been a coach), said Duquesne head coach Darelle Porter after the upset.

Duquesne had six players in double digits. SirValiant Brown scored 24 while Monroe had 19 points and 13 rebounds.

Sophomore Jason Smith missed this and the ODU game to attend his father’s funeral in Boston.

ODU 82, GW 75
Monday, Jan. 3

A season ago, Shawnta Rogers showed Old Dominion the door with a buzzer-beater three at the Smith Center. But the inexperienced 2000 version of the Colonials could not hold onto a lead again in the waning moments of a game and fell to the Monarchs in front of 2,485 at the ODU Fieldhouse in Norfolk, Va.

The loss came after another furious comeback had brought the Colonials back from a 59-45 deficit with 11 minutes remaining and into a 74-72 lead with 1:39 to go.

ODU, which led 38-31 at the half, finished the game on a 10-1 run.

SirValiant Brown scored 23 but shot an uncharacteristic 5-of-10 at the line after suffering a deep bruise just above his backside after falling hard while taking a charge.

The win raised the Monarchs’ record to 5-8.

UNCC 98, GW 93, OT
Friday, Dec. 31

It was the worst possible New Year’s Eve the 3,671 fans at the Smith Center could have imagined as the Colonials snatched defeat from the jaws of victory with a last-minute choke worthy of the Boston Strangler.

The Colonials lost the first overtime game of the Tom Penders era by getting outscored 13-8 in the extra session, but the Colonials’ spirit was broken long before that.

At the start, GW looked to be picking up where it had left off at Clemson, roaring out to a 17-3 lead on the 49ers, which entered the game at 6-5 and on a three-game losing streak. But junior guard Diego Guevara kept UNCC close with a barrage of scoring that would eventually leave him with a career high of 25.

GW’s ability to play with the 49ers came despite the fact that SirValiant Brown was suffering from an illness, ran off the court once to throw up, and shot 0-13 from three-point range, finishing with just 18 points.

After GW’s initial run, UNCC not only closed the gap (tying it at 23 with seven minutes left in the first half), but entered halftime with a 35-34 advantage.

In the second half UNCC took the lead with 16 minutes left and held onto at least a share of it for the next eight minutes. Finally, GW made its move and pulled away, opening up an 80-72 lead with a minute and a half remaining.

To be honest, I felt we were out of it, sai
d Guevara. But then everyone just started playing hard.

Brown hit two free throws and the lead was 82-75 with just over a minute left. A UNCC three-pointer at the other end started to make things interesting, but with a minute left, the lead was four. Anxton Iturbe made two clutch free throws, and UNCC answered with two of its own to make it 84-80 with 44 seconds left. GW burned some time off the clock, but with 30 seconds left, Bernard Barrow missed two free throws. UNCC missed a three on the other end, and with Chris Monroe (who led GW with 23 points) at the line with just 15 seconds left, GW again appeared ready to add to its comfortable four-point margin. But he missed both free throws, UNCC made a layup and the score was 84-82. With eight seconds left, Brown missed his first free throw, then finally ended the streak with a make that gave GW a three-point lead. Guevara dribbled upcourt quickly, leaned into Brown and a foul was called on the missed three-point attempt. Guevara calmly made all three free throws and the game went to overtime, where UNCC emerged with the win.

I told (Brown) not to foul a three-point shooter, said Penders of the final play in regulation. Just get a hand in his face and shake his hand if he makes it. I may retire from coaching if I ever get that call on the road.

We’re gonna be up and down until you get the experience behind you. This is the kind of game a veteran team wins.

Seeing more action (26 minutes) because of Mike King’s injury, Valery Khamenia shot 4-for-7 on threes.

The Colonials finished the 1990s with a record of 185 wins and 119 losses.

GW 90, Clemson 71
Wednesday, Dec. 22

With an 11-day break and Mike King staying behind, a road game at Littlejohn Coliseum against Clemson University of the Atlantic Coast Conference probably didn’t look appealing. But GW’s newcomers feasted from long-range on the previously 5-5 Tigers to coast to an easy 90-71 road win, GW’s first of the season.

The Colonials jumped ahead 11-2 and hardly looked back. After the Tigers made a run at cutting into GW’s 41-30 halftime lead, the Colonials answered with three consecutive three-pointers to bury the Tigers under a 50-34 score in front of about 8,000 fans.

Bernard Barrow shot 7-of-14 from behind the arc and scored 28. SirValiant Brown added 27 and Chris Monroe (13 rebounds) dropped in 23. The Colonials shot 15-for-38 on three-pointers. The 15 conversions tied the GW and Littlejohn records while the 38 attempts topped the old GW mark of 35.

Siena 94, GW 91
Saturday, Dec. 11

After the first week of real SirValiant hype, GW’s 14-game home winning streak ended with a wild loss to the Saints of Siena College. It was a game that will be long remembered in Foggy Bottom, if not for Brown’s Smith Center-record 42 points, then for the outbursts of Penders that left the packed student section roaring right through an improbable comeback that fell just short of victory. With a big boost from the officials (rightfully or not), the Saints were left celebrating a victory that ranked with any in Siena history.

The night started innocently enough for the 4-4 Colonials and the 6-1 Saints. Behind by two with five minutes left in the first half, Siena buried a three-pointer. A foul by Brown gave the Saints the ball back instantly. A foul by Francisco de Miranda elicited an exasperated leap from Assistant Coach Tommy Penders Jr., and he was called for a technical. Siena buried the four free throws, then added a three-pointer and in 26 seconds and one trip down the floor, had scored 10 points.

Siena, known for its offense but playing without two starters, took a 54-45 lead into halftime. GW then ran into another officiating buzzsaw three minutes into the second half.

With 16:42 left in the game and the Colonials down 60-52, Brown was called for a shooting foul. He leaped around in frustration and was called for a technical. Penders stormed the court and threw his jacket. He was called for a technical, and seconds later, was thrown out of the game.

By now, Penders was apoplectic, directing all of his anger at official Joe Mingle, who has been no stranger to hurled expletives from the student body at the Smith Center. Penders had to be restrained by the coaches and players, then after a few moments, made his way to center court, where he was restrained quite physically by the equal-to-the-task Patrick Ngongba. Ngongba escorted Penders back to the bench, where a Smith Center employee escorted him to the southwest exit. But Penders lingered there for a moment, then made a gesture directed at the heavyset Mingle, miming with his hands a large belly, then mouthing fatso. At this point, the student section reached levels of volume it’s probably impossible to top.

For Penders’ part, he expressed afterwards that he shouldn’t have been ejected. He also expressed frustration at the number of fouls in the two-and-a-half hour game. The officials called a Smith Center-record 69 fouls, while Siena’s 39-for-49 performance from the line shattered the Smith Center-records for an opponent’s free throw attempts and conversions. GW tied the Smith Center Colonials’ record for made free throws (37) and set a new record for attempts (53). Penders felt his son should not have received a technical and that the Siena coaches, who were out of control, should have been ejected if he was.

I went out on the floor to get a technical to get the team and the crowd into it and not to get thrown out, said Penders after the game, which he listened to on WRGW. I should not have been thrown out. I said absolutely nothing to get thrown out. I was just trying to get one technical, and he overreacted. I just thought the big, heavyset official had a bad attitude that was written all over his face. In fact, before the game, he said to me, `You’ve been coaching an awful long time to only have 500 wins’. I think I should get a little respect from that guy.

After the insanity, which dragged on as students threw objects onto the court and after a Siena fan virtually challenged half the student section to a fight and was then personally ejected by Athletic Director Jack Kvancz (again, much to the delight of what had truly become Smith Center Psychos), Siena went to the line for its foul shots. The Saints made five of six, then scored two on the ensuing possession, and had scored seven points in one trip and nine seconds. Another jumper made it 68-52 with 16 minutes left in the game.

Here, Brown took over, putting on a show the likes of which the Smith Center had never seen. Breaking Mike Brown’s 1985 record of 40 points, Brown scored 29 in the second half (42 for the game on 11-for-30 shooting) to bring the Colonials roaring back and into the lead, 82-80, with four minutes left. But Bernard Barrow fouled out just moments later and with Mike King on the bench with an injured shoulder, the Colonials found playmaking difficult down the stretch.

Still, Siena was losing players left and right (four fouled out in the last six minutes) and the heroics of Brown were enough to bring the Colonials back to the brink of victory despite falling behind 88-82 with two minutes left. Here, Brown made two free throws (he would make 16 and tie Mike Brown for the Smith Center record in that category), then stole the in-bounds pass, was fouled, made a free throw, missed the second, but converted the rebound by Ngongba into a layup. The mesmerizing sequence (of which superstars are made) took 15 seconds and cut the lead to one. Still, the Saints continued to bury free throws and after cutting the lead to 92-91 with nine seconds left, Brown’s tying three-point attempt fell short at the end of the game.

For me, this is one of the most gratifying wins I’ve had as coach, said Siena Coach Paul Hewitt.

Lost in some of the excitement were Brown’s 42 points, which earned him his fourth consecutive Rookie of the Week honors. The performance came after a week of post-BB&T Classic hype, with CBS Sportsline and Sport Illustrated both featuring the freshman wonder. Penders said he had talked to Brown a lot about keeping a level head despite all the atten

He’s a very sensitive kid, Penders said. I talk to him about keeping things in perspective, and he does.I’d rather have (him score the record 42 points) in a win. Val was in the locker room crying his eyes out. That’s the type of kid he is.

Bradley 75, GW 65
Wednesday, Dec. 8

In its second true road game of the season, the Colonials again had to contend with a tough team form the Midwest looking for respect and revenge. But unlike the blowout a week before at Ohio University, GW came out well and only folded late to lose in front of 9,175 fans at the Carver Center in Peoria, Ill.

Bradley dropped a 10-0 run midway through the second half to nullify GW’s 34-30 halftime lead. The Braves raised their record to 4-2.

SirValiant Brown scored a season-low 17 points on 6-of-28 shooting. Mark Lund converted his only field goal attempt, the first made field goal of his college career.

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