ORLANDO, Fla. – Cinderella teams abounded after the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, as low seeds consistently beat top seeds in the first and second rounds.
But the GW men’s basketball team forgot to get fitted for a glass slipper, as Indiana University escorted the Colonials from the “Big Dance” early with a 108-88 rout March 11 at Orlando Arena.
“It’s real disappointing to lose again in the first round, especially since it’s my last college game,” senior point guard Shawnta Rogers said.
Despite amassing an impressive record of 80-40 in the last four years, GW hasn’t won in the postseason since 1994. For the third time in four years, Rogers, fellow senior Yegor Mescheriakov and the rest of the Colonials lost a first-round game in the NCAAs. In the other year (1996-’97) they lost a first-round game in the National Invitational Tournament .
GW’s performance against Indiana seemed eerily similar to its last game, a blowout loss to Atlantic 10 champion Rhode Island in the conference tournament semifinals. In that game, the Rams put away the Colonials almost before GW could blink, and the same was the case against the Hoosiers. GW couldn’t shoot against the Rams and allowed URI to hit a high percentage of its shots from the field.
In the first half of the Indiana game, a hot-shooting Hoosier team (63 percent for the half) blew away GW, which hit just 33 percent of its own shots. That included only two three-pointers in 13 attempts. GW was also uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball – turning the ball over 11 times – but only two of those turnovers came on Indiana steals.
“We did everything we could to lose,” GW head coach Tom Penders said. “These kids want it so bad. They were too tight early. We tried to pass when we had shots and shoot when we had passes.”
GW (20-9) trailed just 5-4 at the first television timeout, but Indiana immediately went on a 16-1 run to take a 20-5 lead that the Colonials would challenge only once.
“Tonight we just couldn’t get it going early, and I thought it was a game we needed to get on top early,” Penders said.
One of the few good moments in the game for GW came on the first two possessions as Indiana’s William Gladness threw the ball away on a football pass after the Hoosiers won the tip. On GW’s first possession, Patrick Ngongba hit a 12-foot jumper on an assist from Yegor Mescheriakov to give the Colonials a 2-0 lead.
But things turned sour quickly as GW either failed to score or turned the ball over on its next six possessions, including two turnovers by Rogers in the first two minutes. The only thing that kept the Colonials in the game was Indiana was playing just as badly as they were.
But the Hoosiers came out like a new team after the timeout at the 15:42 mark. Indiana tied the game and guard A.J. Guyton got his team the lead with a three-pointer from the right arc. Then Indiana started beating GW inside like it would for the rest of the game. Good passes into the paint led to easy scores by Lynn Washington and Gladness. Later Gladness would crash the offensive boards for two more easy buckets, and sophomore Luke Recker put an exclamation point on Indiana’s run with a dunk on a fast break. By the end of the flurry, Indiana had taken a 15-point lead and GW didn’t know what had hit it.
“We got off to a really good start,” Indiana head coach Bob Knight said. “After the first few minutes we settled down. All in all it was a really good ballgame for us.”
While much had been made of the guard match-ups – Rogers against Guyton and Mike King against Luke Recker – Indiana won the game by beating the Colonials inside.
“We definitely wanted to come out and play well,” said Kirk Haston, who scored a career-high 27 points and grabbed nine rebounds for Indiana. “We knew we had a big lineup. That was going to be a big part of the game. We wanted to help out our guards as much as we could.”
Indiana also picked apart GW with its passing, running a motion offense almost to perfection in addition to beating GW in transition. Five Hoosiers had three or more assists and they tallied 23 for the game.
“I think the transition game was important to us tonight in the fact that George Washington likes to run and we thought we could counteract that by running against them,” said Recker of his team’s game, in which it set a school record for points in a postseason game. GW hadn’t given up that many points in more than 10 years. “They got back as well as they got down on offense. It’s just one of those games where it’s to our advantage to run and we took advantage of it.”
While few GW players had good games, Mescheriakov was one of the few who did, scoring 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting to go along with seven rebounds. Rogers scored a game-high 28 points, but he did it by making just 10 of his 31 attempts from the field. He also turned the ball over five times and made just three assists.
But it was Rogers who sparked a GW comeback midway through the first half. With GW trailing 24-9, he drove the middle for an acrobatic shot to start a 10-0 GW run. Later he made both halves of a one-and-one opportunity at the foul line and made a trey from the right arc. Roey Eyal capped the run with a long jumper in which his foot was on the three-point line.
Leading 24-19, Indiana immediately responded with six unanswered points and would allow its lead to slip to single digits only once more in the game.
Indiana took a 48-31 lead into halftime and it got much worse for GW in the second half. At several points in the game, it seemed the Hoosiers were running a layup drill against GW, pushing their lead to nearly 30 points.
“I’d seen them 10 times and I’d seen them look like this on other occasions,” Penders said. “They did a great job of putting us away.”
As good as Indiana (23-9) looked against GW, it looked just as bad against St. John’s University, which defeated the Hoosiers two days later in the second round of the tournament. The Red Storm played man-to-man at the start of its game with Indiana – like the Colonials did for the entire game. But St. John’s head coach and former GW coach Mike Jarvis switched to a 2-3 zone in the first half and dominated the rest of the game.
Jarvis and his third-seeded Red Storm cruised out of the South Region and toward the Final Four with a victory over the second-seeded University of Maryland before falling to Ohio State University.
With two disappointing losses, GW’s season and the era of Mescheriakov and Rogers came to a close. The questions about what will happen to this program next year and beyond will begin to surface as GW loses its two best players, and two of the best players in GW history.
“We accomplished a lot of things and set the tone for next year,” Penders said. “And one disappointing game in the NCAA Tournament is not going to discourage me.”