Xavier hangs onto lead second time around

Sometimes the final score leaves far too much to the imagination.

For example, just looking at the 88-76 result from GW’s Tuesday night loss to Xavier would never reveal that the Colonials turned a blowout laugher into a dramatic finish with yet another comeback – this time at one of the toughest arenas in the country.

At the Cincinnati Gardens, where Xavier has lost only 25 times in the past 17 seasons, GW trailed 69-51 with only seven minutes left in the game. The Colonials then mounted a furious comeback that made it 76-70 with just under three minutes remaining. In the end, the Colonials couldn’t repeat the amazing comeback victory they completed against Xavier two weeks ago at the Smith Center.

But by refusing to be blown out once again, just when any other outcome seemed impossible, the Colonials exhibited the kind of resolve that could foretell good things for these young Colonials. Or, at the very least, the game might provide the confidence they will need to find victory in the most important and challenging stretch of their season.

It’s an admirable quality for a team, Coach Tom Penders said of his squad’s proclivity for comebacks. Afterwards, everybody was positive but disappointed. It wasn’t total dejection. These kids are gonna fight. They want to win these next two games.

In the next week, the Colonials (13-13, 7-6 Atlantic 10), who are done with the A-10 West (finishing 5-5), will journey to Fordham and Massachusetts seeking the kind of road victories they haven’t found all year.

With the game against No. 8 Temple looming March 4 at the Smith Center, winning those road games will be almost imperative for the Colonials if they hope to qualify for the NIT (a team needs a .500 record) or a bye in the first round of the A-10 Tournament.

With the loss GW is now two games behind West-leading Dayton (19-6, 9-4 A-10), but, more importantly, Xavier (17-9, 7-6 A-10) now shares second place with the Colonials. The Musketeers play their final three games at La Salle, at St. Bonaventure and at home in their Cincinnati Gardens finale vs. St. Joseph’s. Virginia Tech (13-13, 6-7 A-10) is just a game back of GW and Xavier. The Hokies finish at Duquesne and at home vs. La Salle and Dayton.

Tuesday night, in a game televised on ESPN2 and played in front of 9,068 fans, the Colonials ventured into a place that has been a house of horrors for them in recent years – and the opening minutes were more of the same. The Musketeers ran out to a 9-0 lead and were coasting 20-7 with 10 minutes left in the first half. GW’s anemic offense was led by freshman guard SirValiant Brown, who missed his first seven shots and shot 1-of-12 in the first.

He was too antsy, too anxious, too jacked up, Penders said. I always try to wind him down.

The Colonials got within 24-19 after a three from junior guard Bernard Barrow with eight and a half minutes left. But as the Colonials scored on four straight possessions, Xavier continued to run all over the Colonials, using its height advantage on GW’s four-guard lineup to hit five straight shots. The Musketeers then expanded their lead to its largest margin, 48-31, at the half.

You play to win, and we were really focused, Penders said. We just didn’t shoot the ball well.

The second half opened with more poor offensive execution as it took GW two minutes to draw rim. Meanwhile, Xavier took its largest lead of the game at 53-33 with 16 minutes remaining. With 10 minutes left in the game and Xavier up 63-45, Brown had 16 misses, while the entire Musketeer team had 17.

After a drive by Xavier’s Lloyd Price, who was injured in the last meeting between these teams, the Musketeers led 69-51 with seven minutes left.

Then the Colonials, who had just been along for the ride all night, exploded. Sophomore forward Jason Smith converted two layups. Junior guard Mike King, who would lead the Colonials with 17 points, nailed a three. Xavier answered instantly with a three, but King nailed another three, and then yet another trey to make it 73-62 with four and a half minutes left.

After two Xavier free throws, Smith drained a long two. Then an assist from Brown led to a Smith layup and a foul shot. His free throw brought GW within nine, 76-67 with four minutes remaining.

After two short Xavier misses, freshman swingman Chris Monroe drove for two. After a steal from junior point guard Bernard Barrow, King missed an open three that would have surely sent the GW bench into histrionics, but a Monroe free throw pulled GW within six at 76-70.

Xavier Coach Skip Prosser had seen enough, and he called a timeout with two and a half minutes left. Xavier came out and buried a three that Brown immediately answered on the other end. Price spun in the lane for two on the next possession, but Brown answered again with his own drive.

Xavier then threw the ball away with 1:15 left in the game. Smith missed an open three, but Monroe was fouled on the putback. He made one free throw, cutting it to 81-76 with just under a minute left. After Price made two free throws, Monroe missed an open point-blank layup to end the Colonials’ hopes. The Musketeers scored the final five points for the final margin.

Although the final score didn’t show it, the Colonials had put up more of a fight than they usually have at Xavier. GW’s record in Ohio fell to 0-3 on the year, but two of its guttiest road performances have come in Ohio – at Dayton and Xavier.

Brown shot 5-of-24 and scored a career-low 15. Despite his 24.7 scoring average, he retains his spot at the top of the national scoring list because his rival, Courtney Alexander of Fresno State University (25.2 points per game), is not currently qualifying for the statistic due to games played.

The Musketeers took 18 fewer shots than GW but hit five more. Maurice McAfee and Darnell Williams combined for 46 points on 16-of-26 shooting (8-of-12 on threes).

King shot 6-of-9 and 4-of-5 from three-point range. He also led the team with 10 rebounds, including five offensive boards. GW actually outrebounded Xavier 39-33.

King’s play of late as a sixth man has him knocking on the door for a starting position, as once-hot-shooting Monroe has converted no more than four field goals in his last four games.

There’s a chance I might start him against Fordham, Penders said of King. Regardless, he’ll play a lot of minutes, I’ll tell you that . A good sign (at Xavier) was Mike. He’s got his confidence back.

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