If there can ever be an air of invincibility about an 11-11 team, the GW basketball team probably achieved it Wednesday night at the Smith Center. The red-hot Colonials won their fifth in a row with a 95-90 thrashing of the Atlantic 10 West-leading Flyers from Dayton.
With the win, GW (11-11, 5-4 A-10) climbed above .500 in the A-10 for the first time all season after an 0-4 start. The Colonials also reached .500 overall for the first time since Dec. 8, 1999, and notched the first five-game winning streak since this time last year.
After GW’s last loss (at Dayton Jan. 22), there was optimism in the program despite the 6-11 record. Junior guard Mike King was finally back, freshman guard SirValiant Brown was finally at full strength, and GW faced a favorable stretch of the schedule, with six home games and two winnable road games. The Colonials have taken full advantage of all the positives, riding tough defense, hot shooting, high scoring and home cooking to announce their arrival as an elite team in the balanced A-10.
Since the game we lost to Dayton, I think the chemistry has gotten a lot better on the team, junior forward Antxon Iturbe said.
We’re a better team than our record, and we know that, Coach Tom Penders said.
In the streak, the Colonials have knocked East-leading St. Bonaventure out of that position, have done the same to second-place-in-the-West Xavier and have now pulled within a game and a half of Dayton (17-5, 7-3 A-10) in the West. The Colonials have put themselves in a position to start thinking about a possible NIT bid and a first-round bye in the A-10 Tournament, something that’s imperative if the Colonials hope to have a shot at winning the tournament and getting the conference’s automatic NCAA bid.
Wednesday’s victory was fueled by the best shooting night of Brown’s young college career, as he went 10-for-17 from the field (3-of-6 from three-point range) and 10-of-10 from the line, scoring 33 points.
I think you see more and more reason why he’s going to be a great one, Penders said.
GW, which was actually favored by three points in this game (That’s because I’m overrated as a coach, joked Penders), saw its offense arrive a little late, much like the 4,214 fans Wednesday night.
The Colonials trailed 6-2 two minutes in, when a 10-0 run put the Colonials in the driver’s seat, where they stayed for much of the first half. Whenever Dayton made a run to get close, tie or take the lead, GW had an answer. When GW fell behind 13-12, Brown buried a three to spark an 11-2 run, while Dayton didn’t convert a field goal for five and a half minutes. GW built its largest first-half lead at 26-18 with seven minutes left. Dayton kept fighting, though, and pulled ahead 37-36 with 40 seconds left. Then a King drive, foul shot and layup gave GW the 42-38 halftime lead.
In the first half, Brown had 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting while usually fast-starting freshman Chris Monroe was hardly a factor, scoring only four points. King had 10 at the half on 4-of-6 shooting.
The two teams traded punches as the second half got underway until GW started to pull away. Monroe took over the offense, burying a three and assisting junior guard Bernard Barrow on a layup with 16 and a half minutes left. Monroe and GW continued running as a 13-1 run built GW’s largest lead of the night at 60-45. Suddenly, the Flyers answered with a scoring binge that brought Dayton nine points in just over a minute to pull within 62-58. After GW called a timeout to stop the bleeding, GW held Dayton at bay for four more minutes until a layup by Dayton freshman Brooks Hall tied the game at 72 with just under eight minutes left.
Brown, who had scored only two points all half, suddenly had an answer. He was fouled on a three-point attempt that almost went in and he made all three shots. He added four more points in a run that built an 82-74 lead with five minutes left. Dayton, which shot 7-for-28 on threes, never got closer than five the rest of the way.
It’s a great feeling to know you can beat a great team like that, Penders said. It’s a joke that they’re not in the top 25.
GW won by shooting a stunning 60.7 percent, taking only 56 shots to Dayton’s 74. The team also shot 6-of-13 on threes and 21-of-26 on free throws.
Barrow shot 5-of-9 and added seven assists and four steals. He leads the official A-10 statistics in assists per game.
He’s playing like a heck of a point guard these past few weeks, Penders said.
Monroe shot 7-of-12 for 20 points, 16 in the second. He also grabbed nine boards (five offensive). Iturbe continued his invaluable work, playing solid defense and bringing leadership to the floor.
No one was more important than Antxon tonight on the boards and on defense, Penders said.
Dayton, which has never won in five tries at the Smith Center, had not allowed more than 83 points to an opponent all year. GW is now 3-4 in games it scores at least 90. GW, which ranks 15th in Division I scoring at 81.5 points a game, is still the only team in the top 25 of scoring to not have a winning record.
Dayton’s senior center Mark Ashman was held to a manageable 18 points by a battalion of front-court players, beginning with senior center Francisco de Miranda, who started for the first time since Jan. 3. Dayton junior guard Tony Stanley was harried into 4-of-14 shooting and eventually fouled out.
I think, plain and simple, we got outscored tonight, Dayton Coach Oliver Purnell said. They were scoring too easily and we were working for ours.
Tony Stanley’s a very good player, but Val Brown’s like trying to guard smoke, Penders said. He’s a defender’s nightmare.
Brown, who’s trying to become the first freshman to ever lead the nation in scoring, has 558 points this year. The school record is 723 in a season, set by Bob Tallent in 1968-’69. The career record is 2,226 points, held by Joe Holup (1953-’56).
GW now goes to basement dweller La Salle (8-12, 2-7 A-10) Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. to try to and improve on the 1-3 A-10 road record with a second straight road win.
Now we gotta do what we did the last time we were on the road, and that’s play well, Penders said.