FAIRBANKS, ALASKA — Players like freshman guard SirValiant Brown, who yelled and pumped his fist after capping an 80-74 win over Indiana State University with a layup at the buzzer, aren’t supposed to show that much emotion in only the first game of the season. But then again, freshman guards like Brown aren’t supposed to play as well as he did in their very first collegiate basketball game.
Brown and the GW men’s basketball team (1-0) as a whole ended up with abysmal shooting percentages in its opener in the Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alsaka Friday night. However, Brown’s scoring and poise with the game on the line, combined with solid play from junior guard Mike King and freshman guard Chris Monroe, helped GW to hold off the Sycamores (0-1). They are a team that returned all five starters from the 1998-1999 season and are expected to contend in the surging Missouri Valley Conference. But for one night the Atlantic 10 showed why it shouldn’t yet be written off.
Despite shooting only 40 percent to ISU’s 58 percent, the Colonials forced 27 turnovers and attempted 20 more shots than ISU, converting on 28 (to the Sycamores’ 29). Individually, GW’s two new starting guards struggled with their shooting (junior Bernard Barrow went 7-of-25 and Brown finished 6-of-21). Brown led all scorers with 19 points (12 in the last eight minutes), followed by Barrow with 17, Monroe with 16 and King with 15.
In front of 3,860 fans, the game started slowly, and it seemed to move at ISU’s determined pace rather than at GW’s usual frenetic style. Although they turned the ball over 18 times, the Sycamores shot nearly 60 percent in the first half. The Colonials managed 15 more shots in the first half and built an early lead of 10-2, finishing the half up 38-31. The Colonials’ lead came behind several quick runs that all prompted timeouts from the ISU bench. Indiana State’s all-conference candidate senior guard Nate Green had only four points at halftime.
The start of the second half found the Sycamores dominating GW. Two quick steals by Green allowed ISU to score six points in 31 seconds to close the score to 38-37 just 31 seconds into the half. ISU then went ahead 42-40 with 15:46 left in the contest and built three separate five-point leads, culminating with a 64-58 lead with just under eight minutes left.
At this point, Brown, who had picked up his fourth foul on an intentional foul with 13:19 left in the game, reentered the game. He appeared to take total offensive control and took the Colonials’ next three shots, sinking them all and tying the game at 64-64. The scoring went back and forth until ISU opened up a three-point lead at 71-68 and led 74-72 with just over two minutes remaining. Brown made two free throws to tie the game.
Neither team scored until Barrow missed a layup with 35 seconds left that Monroe rebounded, drawing a foul. He calmly sunk both free throws for the 76-74 lead. ISU (which only had one field goal in the last five minutes and 30 seconds of the game) turned the ball over on the next possession and Brown made two more free throws to ice the win. After another Sycamore turnover, junior Antxon Iturbe found Brown with a full-court pass culminating in a layup at the buzzer to finish off the 80-74 victory.
Much of the game was won and lost at the charity stripe. GW made only 4 of its 10 attempts in the first half, but made 16 of 19 free throw attempts in the second half. Also, all three starting guards (Brown, Barrow and King) ended the game playing with four fouls.
For the Sycamores, Matt Renn and Kelyn Block had 17 points, while Renn added 15 rebounds. Green finished with 11 points.
Mike King shot well for GW, taking advantage of open lanes and finishing 7-for-11. Barrow, however, shot 7-for-25, still trying to be the force at point that Coach Tom Penders wants. He had one assist.
“I did some bad things, I did some good things,” Barrow said. “I just have to keep playing.”
“I feel very fortunate to have beat a very experienced Indiana State team,” Penders said. “I don’t want to say we played lousy. It’s a first game. Funny things happen. I’m not saying it was a Picasso. We turned it over too much (17 times), but we made them turn it over, too.”
Penders also commented on keeping the three guards in the game when they had four fouls.
“If we keep Val Brown on the bench, we lose the game,” he said. “These guys have the smarts to keep from getting that last foul.”
“It’s very important to start off with a good win, Mike King said. Even if we’d have lost, which we didn’t, we can bounce back.”
Penders expressed surprise afterwards that after playing at a fairly plodding Indiana State pace, GW still topped the 80-point mark.
“I can’t believe we scored 80 points,” he said. “They test your patience. It seemed like we spent about 70 percent of the game on defense.”
With the win, Penders reached 499 for his career and will look for 500 against the University of Oklahoma, which advanced to the semifinal game Saturday night (at midnight Eastern time, 8 p.m. in Alaska) by virtue of a 91-76 victory over Montana State University.
* Sophomore Dorien Brown had a cartilage injury in his foot and was not available to play. He may be ready for Saturday night’s game.
* For the first time in school history, the Colonials opened their season with one of the many tournaments outside the continental 48, while starting with the program’s ninth consecutive season-opening win.
* The game Friday night ended after 1 a.m. on the East Coast.