PHILADELPHIA – The GW men’s basketball team ended its pre-NCAA Tournament season the way most teams did – with a loss in a postseason conference tournament.
But the Colonials (20-8) took it to the extreme, as eventual champion Rhode Island embarrassed them in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals Friday. The Rams snared the A-10’s automatic bid by beating Temple 62-59 in the tournament final Saturday at the First Union Spectrum in Philadelphia.
Rhode Island 94, GW 78
Rhode Island head coach Jim Harrick watched from the sideline in amazement as GW took apart a talented Dayton squad as he waited for his team to take on La Salle in the A-10 Tournament quarterfinals Thursday.
“(GW) put on a display today,” Harrick said after his team blew out the Explorers to earn a semifinal date with GW. “I just said `Wow!’ They were awesome.”
But GW underwhelmed Rhode Island when the Rams steamrolled the Colonials Friday night at the Spectrum en route to the championship.
The Rams (20-12) held GW scoreless for a four minute, 20 second span in the first half and scored 14 unanswered points to take a 21-9 lead. The Colonials never really recovered from that run as they cut Rhode Island’s lead to single digits just once at 21-13.
“This team was tremendously focused tonight and every time we’ve been focused we’ve won,” Harrick said. “And every time our minds are in Timbuktu, we’ve gotten beat.”
In the decisive first half, GW shot just 21 percent from the field – hitting just seven field goals – and made just one of its 15 three-point attempts – or seven percent.
Meanwhile, Rhode Island was busy shredding GW’s usually rock-solid defense. The Rams hit 57 percent of their first-half shots, led by Antonio Reynolds-Dean’s 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting.
“They were like a buzzsaw,” GW head coach Tom Penders said. “Everything they threw up went in. We had no answers.”
Lamar Odom, the tournament’s most valuable player, finished the game with 17 points, although he hit just four of his 15 attempts from the field.
Odom is always a threat to score. He led the Rams in scoring during the regular season, averaging 17.5 points per game. But GW found out the 6-10 Odom, who often seems more like a guard, can dish the ball. Odom had 11 assists and dissected the Colonials with what Penders called “razor-sharp passes.”
GW trailed 45-24 at halftime, a lead that Rhode Island extended in the second half. The Colonials made a run at the Rams late in the second half against Rhode Island’s bench to make the final score closer, but it was too late to make a serious comeback.
GW’s top three scorers – Shawnta Rogers, Yegor Mescheriakov and Mike King – all topped 20 points in the game, but the rest of the team scored just 15 points on 7-of-30 shooting.
“Those three guys got in the 20s and I thought if they got in the 20s, we’d never win,” Harrick said.
GW 100, Dayton 90
After Dayton beat a tough St. Bonaventure team in overtime to advance to the A-10 quarterfinals Wednesday, conventional wisdom said Dayton might be able to slow a GW team that had lost just three of its last 18 games.
But the Flyers (11-17) turned out to be little more than a speed bump for GW Friday, as the Colonials cruised into the semifinals with a win at the Spectrum.
A combination of GW’s offensive execution and swarming defense and a Dayton squad that didn’t have fresh legs doomed the Flyers. The Colonials jumped out to a 51-31 lead by halftime. Dayton head coach Oliver Purnell said the previous night’s overtime win had taken a little too much out of his squad.
“I thought we came out just a tad bit flat,” he said. “We came out and played hard, but we didn’t have that half a step quickness you need to get back against GW’s transition offense.”
Dayton led for just 45 seconds of the game with the score 2-1. The Colonials shot 53 percent from the field to Dayton’s 36 percent in the first half. The Colonials outscored the Flyers 20-8 over an eight-minute stretch in the half, highlighted by an alley-oop lay-in by Mescheriakov from Rogers, to take a 39-23 lead.
Rogers, Mescheriakov and King had almost three quarters of the Colonials’ offensive output in the game. Rogers led all scorers with 28 points and marshaled a perfect floor game for GW with seven assists, four steals and no turnovers .
“I keep telling everyone that I’m starting to take point guard skills for granted,” said Mescheriakov, who finished with 22 points. “It’s just been an unbelievable four years with Shawnta and you always expect the ball in the right place.”
King added 24 points for GW, but he was also a sparkplug in nearly every facet of the game for the Colonials. He dished out five assists and grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds.
“It’s all about effort, trying to get in there, and mix it up with the big fellas,” King said. “I’m throwing my body anywhere it’s needed and try to help the team.”
“He’s one of the best defensive players I’ve ever had, and tonight he really slowed Tony Stanley (Dayton’s leading scorer) up,” Penders said. “His defense really keyed us in the first half.”
GW extended its lead at the start of the second half as Mescheriakov scored six points during an 11-0 run that gave the Colonials a 62-31 lead. Later in the half, Penders pulled his starters, wanting to get them rest for games later in the tournament. But the plan to get his team rest didn’t work quite as expected as Dayton started cutting into GW’s lead.
“I told them (GW’s starters) at halftime if we get up 26, 28 in the first four minutes we’ll get you out, get your rest then,” Penders said. “Our guys know how to finish off a game – our starters – our other guys don’t. I wanted to give them some time.”
GW’s lead was trimmed to 20 by the time Penders reinserted much of his starting lineup at the midway point of the half, but Dayton continued to cut into the lead. The Flyers went on a 10-0 starting at the 7:54 mark to narrow GW’s lead to 82-69. GW stopped the bleeding as Dayton would get no closer than eight points for the rest of the game.
“Any time you give a very good team like that much of a working margin, you almost have to play perfectly,” Purnell said.
GW managed 100 points as Dayton continually sent GW to the foul line in the closing minutes in an attempt to come back. GW’s 100-point performance is just the fourth time a team has scored 100 points in an A-10 Tournament game, and the GW and Dayton’s combined 65 free throws were a tournament record.