Colonials roar past Xavier

With GW down 39-24 at the half of Saturday evening’s game with Xavier at the Smith Center, the 4,762 fans in attendance who have followed the Colonials this year were probably relying on the same minimally comforting knowledge the Colonials were.

We’ve been in this situation before, freshman Chris Monroe told his teammates at halftime. It’s nothing new.

Indeed it wasn’t. The Colonials have faced a variety of large second-half deficits this year and had, time after time, mounted huge comebacks – only to still lose in the end.

But with another packed student section reaching near-painful levels of volume for yet another classic Xavier game, the Colonials ran a buzzsaw through the Musketeers in the second half to earn a 78-67 victory.

GW was powered by a 36-13 run over the first 10 minutes that turned a 15-point deficit into a rousing victory for its fourth straight win. GW is now 10-11 and 4-4 in the Atlantic 10 after an 0-4 A-10 start. In addition, Saturday’s win over Xavier (13-8, 4-5 A-10) moved GW into sole possession of second place in the A-10 West. The Colonials host West-leading Dayton Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. with the prospect of moving within only one game of first place.

Saturday’s matchup started with the kind of electric atmosphere a GW/Xavier tilt has come to mean in Foggy Bottom, but the Colonials took four minutes to convert a field goal and trailed 12-4 five minutes in. Led by another fast start from Monroe, who had 10 of GW’s first 12 points, the Colonials came back to tie the game at 18 with nine minutes left in the first.

From that point on Xavier made good on the promise the game had of being a high-scoring affair. Through the last nine minutes of the half, Xavier outscored GW 21-6 while the Colonials could convert only two field goals. GW missed all nine three-point attempts in the first half and shot 25.6 percent overall. In a trend that changed little all day, the Musketeers out-rebounded GW 32-17 in the first.

To open the second half, the Colonials finally gave the quieted crowd something to cheer about when junior point guard Bernard Barrow buried GW’s first three-pointer, which Xavier instantly answered on the other end. But GW didn’t fold as Monroe immediately rebounded a Barrow miss and drew a foul on the putback for a three-point play. Three straight points from senior center Francisco de Miranda put the deficit back into single digits, but Xavier kept responding and led 48-35 with 15 minutes left in the game.

Managing to fluster Xavier on defense by applying a trapping press, the Colonials suddenly began to dominate on offense. Freshman guard SirValiant Brown, who had only five points in the first half, drove for two, then buried a three to ignite a run and pull GW within eight. A layup by junior guard Mike King sent the crowd into hysterics and with 14 minutes left, an officials’ time-out was the only thing that could stop GW.

During the time-out, Little George and Big George did one of their patented skits, and for once it couldn’t have been more appropriate. To the strains of the Rocky theme, Big George rose back to life and the Colonials continued their own revival immediately after the time-out.

Brown stole the long in-bounds pass and took it all the way for a layup. Barrow then buried a three and Monroe added his own three moments later and in just over two minutes the Colonials had mounted a 15-0 run and led 50-48.

Almost every GW comeback this season has been nullified with a run from the opponent just as GW would take the lead. This time was different. After a Xavier drive stopped the bleeding for a moment and tied the game at 50, GW continued to pull away, building a 60-52 lead. A Xavier three cut it to 64-62 with just over five minutes left, but GW responded with an 8-1 run to finally put the game away, despite Monroe’s difficulties in the waning minutes with a leg cramp.

Chris has no fear, said Coach Tom Penders of Monroe, who led all scorers with 26. He attacks the basket. This was a typical Chris Monroe performance.

Xavier made the last minute tedious with repeated fouling, but the Colonials made their shots to keep the Musketeers at bay. Brown’s last two free throws (he was 7-of-7 on the night) with 17 seconds left gave GW its biggest lead of the game at 78-67. King stole Xavier’s last possession and dribbled out the final 10 seconds as the crowd showed its approval for the stunning tale-of-two-halves victory.

We were relaxed in the second half, Penders said. I thought we were a little jacked up in the first.Our players have come back from a few 17-point deficits and lost, so maybe this one was owed to us.

Immediately after the game, Penders grabbed the microphone and acknowledged the student section by saying that the `Smith Center Psychos’ were the best.

The crowd was unbelievable, he said afterwards. This is the best homecourt in the A-10. They’re worth 10 points.

The crowd just gives us an extra boost of energy, Monroe said. And (Xavier) can’t communicate the way they want.

The Colonials outscored Xavier 54-28 in the second half by shooting 53 percent to Xavier’s 29 percent. Though GW had only eight turnovers and forced 19, Xavier ruled the glass, grabbing 22 offensive rebounds, led by a Smith Center opposing player record-tying nine from freshman center David West. The Musketeers out-rebounded GW overall 55-39.

Our defense has been building, and yet we’re small, Penders said. We’re like a bunch of midgets out there. And yet, we won.It wasn’t pretty, but it was a great win. A Xavier/GW war, that’s what it was.

Barrow had a solid second half, shooting 4-for-7 and making his presence felt all over the court. He had five assists and is second in the league in that category. King had another impressive rebounding game, pulling down 10. Junior forward Antxon Iturbe, who was shaken up on a play in the second half but returned to the game, added seven rebounds.

Brown had a poor shooting game (6-for-19) but did everything else well and stepped up in several key moments with clutch points. His 20 points dropped his average to exactly 25 per game, which still leads the nation.

For Xavier’s part, junior guard Maurice McAfee carried the Musketeers in the first half with 15 points but could muster only four thereafter. Most importantly, Xavier’s leading scorer, sophomore Lloyd Price, broke a finger on his hand in the first half so badly that he went into shock and had to be dragged off the court by a referee to avoid being trampled. He returned to the game in a bandage but was not a factor.

After the game, Xavier coach Skip Prosser could be heard screaming at his team from all over the downstairs area of the Smith Center. At the post-game press conference, an obviously testy and disappointed Prosser bemoaned the fact that he wasn’t as smart as Penders or he would have called this season a rebuilding year for his team, too.

You got to give (GW) credit, he said. You all know what to write. You know, just make a couple free throws, hit a jumper, stop the bleeding – that never happened.

After taking the second-place spot from Xavier, GW now hosts a Dayton team Wednesday that leads the A-10 West. GW can pull within a game of first place if they win Wednesday.

This is a big win for us, Penders said. It gives us a chance to play Dayton here on Wednesday and have it be a very meaningful game for us.

I told these guys a couple of weeks ago that there’s not a team in this league we couldn’t beat. But we could lose them all if we’re not mentally ready.

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