The Colonials are winners again.
By virtue of winning seven of their last eight games over the past month, the Colonials have turned a 6-11 (0-4 Atlantic 10) record into a 13-12 (7-5 A-10) mark that has the second-hottest team in the A-10 in the hunt for a variety of postseason goals.
When we were 6-11, things weren’t looking so rosy, GW head coach Tom Penders said. You can say you’re rebuilding, but if you lose 20 games, you get used to losing.
This weekend, GW hosted Virginia Tech and Rhode Island in a 48- hour period and beat both, running its home-winning streak to seven. Penders also found his 20th Smith Center win as GW’s coach Saturday, reaching that mark faster than any other GW coach.
In the past eight games, the Colonials have taken advantage of their home court for six wins, including victories over St. Bonaventure, Xavier and Dayton.
GW has pulled within a game of Dayton in the A-10 West race, but as the Flyers (18-6, 8-4 A-10) will finish with Virginia Tech and the three worst teams in the A-10 (La Salle, Rhode Island and Duquesne), GW’s focus now is on hanging onto second place in the division. A second-place finish will ensure a bye in the A-10 Tournament March 8-11. A bye is essential to any hopes GW has for winning the tournament and garnering the automatic NCAA Tournament bid. Since 1983, the A-10 Tournament has held four rounds all but one year and only one team, St. Bonaventure in 1984, has ever played in the first round and made it to the championship game. No team has ever won four games in the A-10 Tournament.
With the Colonials over .500 for the first time since beating Maryland (Dec. 4, 1999), they are also eligible for an NIT bid (a team has to be at least at .500 to qualify), but staying eligible will be an uphill climb for the Colonials, as will be staying in second.
In terms of the A-10 West race, both Xavier (16-9, 6-6 A-10) and Virginia Tech (13-13, 6-7 A-10) are still in contention with GW. The Hokies have three games remaining: at Duquesne, and back at home vs. La Salle and Dayton. Xavier has the Colonials Tuesday night, then goes to La Salle and St. Bonaventure before finishing at home vs. St. Joseph’s.
GW starts a road swing Tuesday on ESPN2 at Xavier, GW’s last A-10 West opponent of the year. The Colonials will then come back to Foggy Bottom after the game and fly to New York Friday. After a game at Fordham Saturday, the Colonials will continue on to Massachusetts for a game with UMass Feb. 29 before returning to Foggy Bottom March 1. The trip would be hard enough, but the Colonials have won only twice on the road all year – at Clemson University and Duquesne.
And of course, after all that, GW will return home only to have No. 8 Temple waiting for a March 4 Smith Center tilt on ESPN to end the year.
In terms of the NIT, counting at least one loss in the A-10 Tournament, the Colonials will need to split the rest of their games, including any A-10 Tournament games.
GW starts its final odyssey at the Cincinnati Gardens, where the Musketeers of Xavier have lost only 25 times since making it their full-time home in 1983. Fortunately perhaps for GW, the Colonials have accounted for two of those losses. Only the University of Cincinnati, with three wins, has beaten Xavier more often at the Gardens since 1983. But the Colonials have lost their last three games at Xavier by an average of 13.6 points.
It’s a rivalry-type game, no question, Penders said. We’ve just got to be ready for it.
The game at the Gardens will be the last for GW and the second-to-last for Xavier. Their new home, the Cintas Center, is currently under construction.
The Colonials are upbeat, but realistic, of their chances these final two weeks.
They’re all tough, said Penders. We’ve got a chance.
I think we can end the season on a positive note, junior guard Mike King said.
GW 99, Rhode Island 81
Saturday, Feb. 19
The Colonials finally pulled away from the hapless Rams (5-21, 2-11 A-10) in the second half to complete a win that appeared preordained.
It was certainly a better result than the last time ESPN, Tom Penders, Rhode Island and the Smith Center came together (a 92-61 thumping from Penders’ Rams in 1988), but the atmosphere was closer to a noon contest with a 5-20 team than it was to a nationally televised game.
There was at least one person in the 3,678 in attendance who seemed to know the cameras were on. Freshman guard SirValiant Brown was sensational in his national television debut, shooting 10-of-17 overall, 4-of-7 on threes, and 6-of-6 from the line. His 30 points were all the more amazing because, saddled with foul trouble, he played only 23 minutes.
Brown certainly outshone his rookie rival, URI’s Zach Marbury, who shot 5-of-14 and had six turnovers. The game earned Brown his sixth A-10 Rookie of the Week Award. Although at 25.0 points per game, he has fallen 0.2 points behind Fresno State University’s Courtney Alexander in his quest to be the first freshman to lead the nation in scoring, he has won the most Rookie of the Week Awards for GW since Yinka Dare won nine in 1992-93. His sixth 30-point game put him at 626 points this season, 97 short of the GW record held by Bob Tallent, who was honored at the half of Saturday’s game.
Junior guard Mike King filled Brown’s place on the floor Saturday with a season-high 21 points in 31 minutes.
Mike really picked it up, Penders said. He’s the real reason why we’ve won seven of eight.
Junior guard Bernard Barrow dished seven assists to maintain his second-place spot in the A-10 assists per game category (6.18 per game). He also ranks 25th in the nation. Junior forward Antxon Iturbe pulled down eight rebounds and drew several charges on defense.
Despite freshman Chris Monroe’s 10-for-10 performance at the free throw line, he struggled from the field for the third straight game, having shot 12-for-45 over the last week.
He’s been getting hammered, Penders said of the fouling down low on Monroe. I’d like to see him get a little more respect.
The Rams hung with GW and broke GW’s press often with athletic dunks. GW led 30-23 when Brown went to the bench 11 minutes in with his third foul. Behind King’s 13 points, GW expanded its lead to 50-41 at the half.
The second half saw the Rams grow closer behind inept rebounding at stretches for GW. One URI possession lasted a full minute while the Rams took seven shots and were fouled three times.
GW was up only 66-62 with 10 minutes left when the Rams finally ran out of gas. Brown came off the bench with four minutes left and instantly buried a three while being fouled to put the final dagger in the Rams’ upset hopes. Still, the Rams did score their most points since Dec. 14.
GW couldn’t break 100 yet again, but at 81.2 points per game, GW ranks 13th in the nation in scoring offense.
We’re trying to sell a style of play to recruits, Penders said. This was on national TV. (A half-court offense) isn’t going to sell tickets and that doesn’t get recruits.
GW 71, Virginia Tech 68
Thursday, Feb. 17
GW beat Virginia Tech in ugly fashion in front of 4,462 fans to gain revenge on the Hokies and notch at least one win over every A-10 West member.
It was another comeback for the Colonials, who have trailed big at the half in six home games this year, but have come back to take three of those, capped by another such victory Thursday.
SirValiant had a second-straight poor shooting game against the zone, going 12-for-51 in his last two games – but he still led the game with 22 points. The Colonials forced 24 turnovers to compensate for 35 percent shooting. GW has had 169 fewer turnovers than its opponents this year.
It took only five minutes in the second half for GW to tie it at 38. After a monster dunk from sophomore center Dennis Mims, who represented the best (17 points and 13 rebounds) and the worst (eight turnovers) for Tech, the Hokies led 61-60 with five minutes left. Then, Chris Monroe, who had been a non-factor all night, drove for two and buried a three to put GW ahead for good.
With 16 seconds left, Monroe grabbed the ball on a fortunat
e ricochet as GW tried to break Tech’s press and laid it in for the final margin. Virginia Tech’s tying three-point attempt fell far short at the buzzer.
When you shoot 35 percent and win, you feel like having a party, Penders said. Don’t blame me if I smile.
Senior center Francisco de Miranda, who started and had a solid game, talked about what the Colonials rely on when they’re down – as they’ve been so many times.
What’s the mindset? he said. Just waiting for that run. We’ve faced this so many times. We just don’t want to give up.
The Colonials improved to 2-1 in games decided by three points or less. The game was the last A-10 regular season matchup between the two schools, as Tech is headed to the Big East Conference next season. The all-time series is tied 35-35.
Senior guard Mark Lund missed the game for a medical school interview at the University of Washington.