Youth is served on Senior Day as GW tops Fordham

NEW YORK – Twenty-two years ago, Bernard Barrow was born in Harlem, N.Y. while just a few miles away in the Bronx, Tom Penders was preparing to begin his first of eight seasons as Fordham’s head basketball coach.

Saturday, Barrow and Penders, along with the rest of the GW Colonials, returned to the city, and with a well-executed team effort knocked off the Rams of Fordham for an 88-83 victory.

It was very emotional, Penders said, whose GW team has now won eight of its last 10. It was the first time back to coach here. There are a lot of great, great memories. It was real special coming back.

And it was even more special to leave with a win, as the rare road victory kept GW in contention for the NIT and a first-round bye in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

At Rose Hill Gym, the oldest gym in Division I, a sell-out crowd of 3,470 fans turned out for Senior Day and almost saw the Rams (13-14, 6-9 A-10) end their home season on a positive note after an exciting rally turned a 55-41 second-half deficit into a 74-72 Rams lead. But the scoring and rebounding of sophomore forward Jason Smith and freshman swingman Chris Monroe, plus a clutch 12-point run by freshman guard SirValiant Brown, were too much for the Rams to overcome down the stretch.

Fordham Coach Bob Hill (in his first year at Fordham after 12 years as an NBA coach) started his seniors, which he would blame afterwards for the fact that the Rams fell in a hole early – a hole almost completely dug for the Rams by Smith. Brown started the game on the bench for the third time this season because he was late for a study hall. His tardiness allowed junior Mike King to make his first start since Jan. 29, the last time Brown sat for disciplinary reasons. In Brown’s absence, Smith (who the program and the announcer repeatedly referred to as James) took over, scoring 10 of GW’s first 12 points – including two three-pointers – that had the sizable GW fan contingent on its feet. Five minutes into the game, GW led 12-4.

For the next several minutes, the lead got no smaller than four and ballooned to as many as 10 as excellent ball movement by the Colonials was more than enough to beat horrendous shooting from the Rams. Although the first half only saw GW outshoot Fordham 38 percent to 33 percent, the misses from the Colonials’ four-guard lineup came mostly from long-range. The Rams, on the other hand, found penetration easy but finishing exceedingly difficult – as more than one ugly Fordham layup banged five feet off the backboard.

The Rams finally made a run in the final minutes of the first half that cut the lead to 32-30 with two and a half minutes left. With the score 34-32, King nailed a long two off the dribble, junior guard Barrow drove for two and Smith made a steal and dunk for the 40-32 lead. Monroe, who had 15 in the first half, drew a foul on a layup with three seconds left to lift GW to a 43-33 halftime lead.

In the first half, Smith and Monroe both shot 7-for-13, accounting for 33 points between them. Brown, Monroe and King shot a combined 3-of-19. Smith’s 2-of-3 performance from three-point range was the only bright spot in that area, as the rest of the Colonials went 0-for-12.

Fordham junior guard Jason Harris, whose status was uncertain for this game after a medical emergency earlier in the week, nailed a three to open the second half. Sophomore forward Duke Freeman-McKamey then made a layup, and 34 seconds into the half, GW’s lead was just five. But after a Penders timeout, Barrow made a steal and layup, then buried a three to put GW back into control.

The Colonials continued to pull away and after a King basket at the 15-minute mark, GW had its biggest lead, 55-41. Then Freeman-McKamey and the Rams came alive.

During the next eight minutes, Fordham scored on an astounding 13 straight possessions. The Rams missed several times, but had six offensive rebounds in the stretch to keep them rolling. As the Colonials continued to see their lead evaporate, foul trouble became a problem, as did some extracurricular activity. One near-brawl caused Penders to run the length of the court to stop the fight, while at the same time, Monroe, King and junior forward Antxon Iturbe were all busy picking up their fourth fouls.

During Fordham’s 33-17 run, Freeman-McKamey, who had two points at halftime, would account for 18. He finished with 28 points and 20 rebounds (10 offensive). His performance earned him A-10 Player of the Week honors.

It took the scoring of Smith, and then Brown, to calm the roaring crowd and bring the obviously rattled Colonials back under control. With six and a half minutes left and Fordham up 72-70, Smith was fouled while driving to the basket. He made both free throws to tie the game. After a Freeman-McKamey dunk, Smith drained a long jumper in his defender’s face to tie it at 74.

At the other end, Fordham missed a jumper, grabbed the usual offensive rebound but was blocked by Smith to finally end Fordham’s scoring binge. With five minutes left in the game, Brown, who had been an offensive non-factor all day, buried a three-pointer. Harris missed a three and then fouled Brown. Brown made the free throws and at the three-minute mark, hit a one-handed runner from the foul line while being fouled to lift GW to an 82-76 lead after his three-point play. His three-pointer 30 seconds later would be followed by a steal and free throw with a minute left that ended his personal 12-point run.

Harris hit a three-pointer with just under a minute left and brought Fordham within three at 86-83, but junior guard Bevon Robin’s attempt at a tying three missed badly with four seconds left.

I was really hoping we could win this for these three seniors, said Coach Hill, whose Fordham team has not beaten GW since 1969. But it wasn’t in the books.

The Colonials took only two more shots than the Rams, an unusual stat to find in a GW victory. As might be expected in a close win, every stat was nearly even. Hill said the game hinged on the Rams’ failure to capitalize in one area – free throws – where Fordham missed 10 attempts.

Everything’s pretty even, he said. And it just boiled down to – we did a nice job of getting to the foul line, and we just couldn’t make `em today.

Although Barrow’s line on the stat sheet was a little below average, his control of the game was obvious, and it made for a nice return to New York City for the Harlem point guard.

I thought a lot of the win had to do with the poise of Bernard Barrow, Penders said.

It’s the first time I ever won at Fordham, said Barrow, who said he had lost a few city championship games at Rose Hill.

Barrow added that he has something of a rivalry with Bevon Robin (23 points), who hails from the Bronx, and that it was nice to beat him, too. More than anything, it was nice to be back in his hometown.

Just the atmosphere, he said. The big buildings, no one ever goes to sleep.

Barrow now leads the A-10 in assists (5.5) and is third in steals (2.6).

Brown finished with 20 points on 5-of-12 shooting. His average fell to 24.5 points per game, which puts him at second in the nation behind Fresno State University’s Courtney Alexander, who has a 25.0 points per game average. Brown needs 62 points to match Bob Tallent’s GW season scoring record, set in 1969. Although Brown single-handedly lifted GW to victory in the waning minutes, the man wearing the NBA socks and the NBA tattoo got little respect from the former NBA Coach Bob Hill.

Brown is a good player, Hill said. He’s good off the dribble. But I don’t know, I guess I was more impressed with Monroe. When you take 25 shots a game, you ought to be able to score a lot of points.

Monroe certainly was impressive as he broke out of a funk he’d been in for two weeks. He shot 10-of-19 for 22 points and pulled down 15 rebounds (he had a double-double at halftime). He also grabbed 10 offensive rebounds, tying Yinka Dare’s GW record. The game earned Monroe A-10 Rookie of the Week honors, his third such citation of the year. At 16.1 points per game, he ranks eighth in the A-10 in scoring.

Smith also had a breakout game. Although
he seemed to force the action in the second (he had six turnovers in the game), he led GW with 24 points, also grabbing eight boards and adding three steals. Saturday’s game was only the third time someone besides Brown or Monroe has led the team in scoring.

The Colonials (14-13, 8-6 A-10), who depart midtown Manhattan by bus for Massachusetts Monday, now hope that if they can make it here, they can make it anywhere – as they have another important road game with UMass Tuesday. With a win, the Colonials could move two games over .500 for the first time all season, but could more importantly clinch the .500 record they’ll need to qualify for a possible NIT bid.

A win over UMass is also almost imperative if the Colonials want to secure a bye in the A-10 Tournament. Byes go to the first- and second-place teams in each division, and with just a week left, second place in the West is still up for grabs, particularly between Xavier and GW.

GW and Xavier (17-9, 8-6 A-10) are both two games back of Dayton (20-6, 10-4) in the West with two games to play. Dayton could clinch the division Thursday and will certainly be heavily favored to do so, even though their last two games are on the road (at Duquesne and Virginia Tech). Virginia Tech (13-14, 6-8 A-10) is two games back of GW and Xavier. Xavier finishes at St. Bonaventure and at home against St. Joseph’s. The Hokies host La Salle and Dayton to wrap up the year. GW has the game at UMass and then the Colonials will host No. 8 Temple Saturday.

If any of the teams’ A-10 records are tied at the end of the season, tiebreakers will be in order to determine who receives the bye.

The first tiebreaker is head-to-head. Assuming Dayton isn’t involved in a tie, any two-way ties involving GW and Xavier or Virginia Tech will not be resolved with the first tie-breaker, because GW split both series this year. A three-way tie would be decided by the combined record each team has against the other teams. This tiebreaker would also be useless, as all three teams are 2-2 against the other two.

The second tiebreaker is a team’s record in its division. GW finished 5-5 in the West. Xavier also finished 5-5. Virginia Tech is 3-5 with two West games remaining.

If that tiebreaker doesn’t work, each team’s results against each A-10 team, in order of finish, will be the deciding factor. The first team, assuming the Flyers win the West, would be Dayton. Both GW and Xavier split with Dayton. Virginia Tech is 0-1 against Dayton with a home matchup looming. GW, Xavier, and Virginia Tech have all split their series, so the next deciding team would be, if the season ended today, fifth place La Salle. La Salle already owns a win over the Hokies and still has a game at Virginia Tech, but has otherwise split with Xavier and GW. After that, the only team left to settle any ties is Duquesne. Xavier, GW and Virginia Tech have all split with the Dukes.

The tiebreaking system has many stages, but it may quite possibly fail in this case, as the Colonials, Musketeers and Hokies are identical in almost every way. Xavier and GW appear to be on a collision course for a tie only if GW can pull a win off Tuesday. If all of the above fails in regards to tiebreakers, the Colonials’ hopes for a first-round bye and a realistic chance at winning the A-10 Tournament (and securing the automatic NCAA bid) may come down to the flip of a coin.

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