Judging by the 3,345 fans and packed student section that showed up Wednesday night at the Smith Center for GW’s tilt with the surprising Bonnies of St. Bonaventure, not everyone in Foggy Bottom had given up on the Colonials yet. Most importantly, neither had the Colonials.
Playing its first home game with students in class (but, not quite, as a result of the snowstorm), GW (7-11, 1-4 Atlantic 10) excelled in every aspect of its game to even its home mark at 3-3. The win also ended GW’s A-10 losing streak and was the team’s biggest victory (and only the third overall) since the Maryland upset Dec. 5.
GW knocked the Bonnies (12-4, 4-2 A-10) out of first place in the A-10 East by going on a 27-8 run in the first half and holding off several second-half charges to pull out the 75-72 win. Freshman guard SirValiant Brown, who leads the nation in scoring with 25.2 points per game, led the Colonials with 29, including a variety of elbow-your-neighbor, pick-your-jaw-off-the-floor plays that sent the crowd into pandemonium.
The Bonnies, who were off to their best start in 23 years, seemed quite capable 12 minutes in of living up to their reputation, as St. Bonaventure (which took seven hours to come by bus from Olean, N.Y.) held a 20-12 lead. Brown then hit his first three (he shot 2-of-6 on threes and 9-of-20 overall) to start a 27-8 run over the last eight minutes of the first half that put GW up 39-28.
In the midst of the key run, when GW had pulled within one with five minutes left, the Bonnies converted a dunk to make it 22-20. Sophomore forward Jason Smith then buried a three to tie the game. Junior Mike King (12 points, 11 rebounds) added his own three, then Brown crossed over his defender and buried another three to put GW up 28-22.
Several plays in the last minute of GW’s first half exemplified the ball movement and rebounding that GW rode to victory. With a minute and a half left, freshman guard Chris Monroe (15 points, eight rebounds) missed a layup that caromed off to the right. Brown rose above the rim, plucked the ball out of the air with only his right hand and slammed it home for the 10-point, 34-24, lead. With 20 seconds left, King found junior forward Antxon Iturbe on an in-bounds pass for an easy layup, and junior point guard Bernard Barrow found King at the buzzer for a layup that sent the Colonials to the locker room with a comfortable 11-point lead.
Once GW recovered from its slow start, the Colonials had set the tone, taking it to a team that was averaging 70 points and only giving up 64 (with only one opponent having scored as many as 73). The first-half run came despite 14 first-half points on 6-of-9 shooting from SBU senior center Cyrus Caswell, who could not be stopped in the first half. GW’s cause was helped when SBU senior guard Tim Winn sat through most of the run with two fouls.
The second half opened with more scoring from Brown, who took a long outlet pass inside the three-point line that Winn (second in the nation in steals) appeared ready to intercept. But Brown dribbled between his legs and threw up an off-balance layup with his right hand as he was fouled by SBU’s Vidal Massiah. He made the free throw for the astounding three-point play and the 44-31 lead.
They really took our guards, said St. Bonaventure Coach Jim Baron. We kept switching guys on Brown, but he was just taking our guards.
Despite all that, the Bonnies weren’t done yet. Just a few minutes later, it was just 46-44. But GW had an offensive answer all night for SBU runs. After a Monroe drive, three foul shots from Brown, and another ankle-breaking shake-and-shoot from Brown, GW had built it back up to 53-46.
The Bonnies then answered with a run to pull within 56-54 when Jason Smith took over. He hit a turnaround jumper with nine minutes left, stole the ball on the other end, blocked an SBU shot after GW took a 60-54 lead, and tipped in a King miss on the other end for the eight-point advantage.
He plays well, Penders said. He’s a freshman, really.We’ve got some good, young players to be excited about.
St. Bonaventure got no closer than four points the rest of the way until hitting a three at the buzzer.
GW, which has seen its foul shooting come and go, converted the free throws down the stretch to end the Bonnies’ hopes of a comeback. GW enjoyed a free-throw disparity, attempting 31 to SBU’s 19.
In addition to holding an A-10 opponent to fewer than 82 points for the first time, GW owned the boards, beating the Bonnies in that category 40-33, led by King’s 11.
Brown also seemed to have recovered from his injury and led GW to a fine shooting performance, although the Colonials were still out-shot 46.8 percent to 45.3 percent. SBU would have hoped to have shot better, considering the fact that 40 of its 62 attempts were either layups or very short jumpers – but it only made 26 of those shots. And even though the Bonnies had nine more attempts overall, GW was able to capitalize on the free-throw disparity and the hot hands from behind the arc, particularly in the first half, when GW was 5-for-10.
Inside, I feel like cutting the nets down, Penders said. Because it feels like we haven’t won in a month.
Brown, who had the best shooting night of his brief career, revealed the secret of his success Wednesday night.
I was just calm on offense, he said. Coach told me to calm down, don’t get excited.I love the crowd, because they pump me up, but I have to keep from getting too excited.
I was really surprised at the turnout, because of the weather, Penders said. Our students were there strong. Without them, we wouldn’t have won the game.
We just gotta keep winning, Brown said. ‘Cause it feels good.