It was the most anticipated event since No. 1 Massachusetts visited the Smith Center in 1995. This intrepid reporter was on the scene when “The Game” hit Foggy Bottom.
The Week: The buzz had grown for days. Noelia Gomez was named the women’s Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, and the pressure was on Shawnta Rogers to make it a GW sweep. But the flu had hit him hard. Against Temple, he posted a season-low four points followed by a career-low one point against Virginia Tech. As Showdown Saturday approached, the two questions on everyone’s lips were, “Are you going to the game?” and “Is Shawnta still sick?”
Friday, 3:06 p.m.: I go to my chemistry lab and the teaching assistant approaches me with a new lab partner. As fate would have it, it is Shawnta. I ask him how he feels. He says, “I feel a little better.”
But he doesn’t look so good.
Saturday, 2:08 a.m.: I arrive at the Smith Center in support of my friends, who have camped out since 8 p.m. Smith Center Psychos, indeed.
4:10: I leave to see what The Washington Post has to say. I hardly have time to celebrate the Michael Wilbon column on GW when I see that Shawnta “probably” will not play. Oh dear.
4:30: At the Smithy, the Penders’ Posse takes it well. They focus on the “probably.” To them, it reads “maybe.” I’m still in shock.
9:05: The tent has come down. The line now goes to the end of the ramp.
9:30: ESPN commentator Jay Bilas comes and chats up the students. Cider and donuts arrive.
10:32: The line goes to 22nd Street. The doors open. The all-nighters win the dash for center court.
11:15: The student section fills up fast. Spirits rise when Shawnta comes out in uniform for the shoot-around.
11:30: The student section is almost totally full. GW students are busy displaying their uncanny ability to insert “(insert school) sucks!” into any piece of music. I wonder if today’s “Little George” will be the fat, tall one or the short, skinny one?
11:57: I’ve taken my place on the front row. The team comes out to huge roar. Senior Day festivities take place. All the students are standing and will be for the duration.
12:03 p.m.: All three seniors start – Shawnta, Yegor Mescheriakov, and Seco Camara. On the first offensive possession, Seco drives but is swatted. Possible goaltending, but no call is made. A sick Shawnta misses a three.
12:15: Yegor already has five points, two steals, four rebounds and a block. Sitting on the south side of center court, ESPN’s Dave Sims points out that Phoenix Suns’ scouts are here. Jay Bilas says, “Yegor Mescheriakov has made himself, this year, into a first-round draft pick.”
12:25: On an assist from Seco, Yegor dunks for the third time in a row. He has 11 of GW’s 12 points. He has become GW’s eighth all-time leading scorer.
12:57: Patrick Ngongba ends the first half with a monster dunk off an Andry Sola airball. The score is 33-27, GW. “Ngongba saw it and just crushed it!” Sims says.
1:04: Halftime. Shawnta has one point. He hasn’t made a field goal in a week. I ask “Red” Auerbach if he thinks he’s going to get to light up that victory cigar.
“I hope so,” he says. “We’re lucky to be here at all, because Shawnta can hardly pick up the ball. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him go so long without a basket.”
1:20: The Musketeers have scored 20 points in 4:18, and lead by eight. The crowd is stunned. The Xavier fans are louder than GW’s. Shawnta needs to score.
1:32: GW is rolling after a Yegor three-point play, a Mike King three, a Roey Eyal three, and a steal by Shawnta. After missing his first 10 shots, Shawnta hits a three. The next trip, Shawnta nails a long three, and the slumbering giant appears to be awake. Shawnta has become GW’s sixth all-time leading scorer.
The crowd has awakened, too. Manish Gupta, assigned to gather a statistic of his choice for a political science class, has been monitoring the decibel levels. After Shawnta’s last three, the crowd hits 118 decibels. The legal “threshold of pain” is 120.
1:34: After Ngongba finishes the run of six three-point plays with his own, Eyal’s layup gives GW a six-point lead. Xavier calls a timeout, and the crowd is loving it. “They’re going crazy in D.C.!” Sims says.
1:38: Eyal steals the ball, and Yegor dunks off an assist from Shawnta. Crowd hits 120 decibels.
1:42: Xavier’s James Posey ties game with monster dunk over two Colonials. Bilas and Sims can hardly control themselves. “That is the most vicious crush I’ve seen all year!” Sims says.
1:44: Students tell fouled-out Xavier guard Maurice McAfee to “Sit down!” Meanwhile, Bilas and Sims are still talking about Posey’s dunk. Shawnta buries a three.
1:50: With the score tied at 66 with 3:42 left, it’s “go time.” Tom Penders puts King and Yegor back in the game. Both have four fouls.
1:53: Shawnta steals the ball, and buries a three, his fourth. His five field goals will all be threes. The “De-Fense!” chant is deafening. “Could turn out to be a classic,” Sims says.
1:55: Under two minutes left, the score is tied at 70. Smithy officials are telling students that they will be allowed to rush the court, but in an orderly fashion. “The Plan” sounds fair.
1:57: GW by two. Yegor has scored points 71 to 74.
2:00: The score is tied, 74-74. The capacity crowd of 5,454 (Shawnta’s number repeated) is on its feet, and the tension is overwhelming. Shawnta calmly walks the ball up the court. There are seven seconds on the shot clock, and 13 seconds in the game.
Yegor sets a pick, gets the ball, and with one showing on the shot clock, passes to Shawnta. The shot clock still shows one when the ball leaves Shawnta’s hand. The shot clock buzzer sounds as Sola tips the rebound, and Sims starts to say “And we’re going to overtime,” but stops himself when King gets the ball to Shawnta. The ball leaves Shawnta’s hand with 0.7 on the game clock. At its highest arc, time has expired.
Words cannot describe this moment, when time stood still at 22nd and G streets. In 20 years, mention that moment to a witness and the gleam in his eye will say it all. The scoreboard reads GW 77, Xavier 74.
Immediately, all hell breaks loose. “The Plan” falls by the wayside as the next 60 seconds unfold in a way I can remember only vaguely. Instinctively, I and hundreds of my brethren leap over the scorer’s table. I apologize now for abandoning “The Plan,” but now I understand the temporary insanity defense.
2:04: Mike King is sitting on top of the west basket. The nets come down. The Associated Press called it “a wild celebration.” The Colonials had won their first outright regular-season title in the A-10. With his 19th GW win, Penders had tied Mike Jarvis for the most wins by a GW rookie coach. And behind the stellar play of the seniors (and everyone else) on Senior Day, GW had locked up an NCAA bid while finishing 12-0, the best-ever year at the Smith Center. A game that was highly anticipated actually exceeded all expectations.
2:45: At the press conference, Shawnta Rogers speaks of the fans at GW.
“The fans here are wonderful,” he said. “You know, you gotta love ’em. They come and rush the court – this ain’t the only time they did that. So, you know, we love `em. They stay behind us.”
3:01: After giving interviews to “George Michael’s Sports Machine” and ESPN Radio, Shawnta leaves the interview room. The footage of his shot is making its way across America. Within hours, it will become play of the day on CNN’s “Headline News.”
Shawnta walks up the steps to leave. There’s at least 15 kids waiting for him. Shawnta, shorter than some of the children, signs ti
ckets, posters and signs for several minutes, as his son clutches his leg. It’s been one hour since he became a legend and 24 since our lab . I think he feels a little better now.