PHILADELPHIA – A season with its fair share of highs ended on a decided low Thursday afternoon when the Minutemen of Massachusetts blew out the GW men’s basketball team 86-68 in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
The Minutemen were fueled by a stunning 65.9-percent shooting effort, and a 13-for-16 (81.3 percent) performance in the second half that buried the Colonials, preventing even the slightest whiff of a comeback.
This season, the Colonials won the BB&T Classic, went 5-3 vs. NCAA Tournament teams, and had another successful A-10 season – garnering a 9-7 record and No. 2 seed in the tournament after a 6-11 (0-4) start.
But at 15-15, GW was passed over late Sunday night for the NIT, missing postseason play for the first time since 1992. GW also had a non-winning year for the first time since 1989-’90.
But with freshman guard SirValiant Brown scoring 33 points Thursday, GW was once again reminded of how bright the future might be.
This was the year for people to get GW, said Coach Tom Penders. This was the year to get GW because we have some very high-level caliber players coming here. We need more Val Browns and Chris Monroes to compete where I want to compete. We’re gonna build something real special here.
The two teams that collided Thursday looked far different than the ones that met a week before in Amherst, Mass., when GW nipped the Minutemen 87-86. Despite entering the A-10 Tournament with a bye and an NIT bid riding on a good showing, the Colonials had the wind taken out of their sails after a 98-67 home loss to No. 5 Temple the Saturday before – and it couldn’t be ignored that the Owls loomed in the next round for the winner of Thursday’s quarterfinal. UMass, whose fans chanted We want Temple in the waning moments, must really have because they played with a level of intensity and execution that the young Colonials could hardly match.
A few of our kids looked like they were a little too excited, Penders said.
In front of an announced 7,002 fans, UMass forced GW to play its halfcourt game and built an early nine-point lead. But two straight three-point plays from Brown (who had four of them in the first half) pulled GW within 29-28 with just under four minutes left in the first. UMass answered with an 11-4 run to end the half, including a dunk at the buzzer for the 41-32 lead.
I still felt good at halftime, but we just couldn’t get anything going, Penders said.
Four minutes into the second, UMass pushed its lead to double digits, and it never dipped below that. The Minutemen attempted only 16 shots in the second, but made 13 of them. They also added 19 free throws. In the game, no Minuteman shot worse than 50 percent. Meanwhile, the only thing that kept GW’s score rising was the play of Brown, who scored nearly half GW’s points. He shot only shot 8-of-26, but made 15 of 19 free throw attempts, tying an A-10 Tournament record.
The only guy who really played the way he normally does for us was Val, Penders said.
The Minutemen (17-15 after Friday’s loss to Temple) secured an NIT bid (joined by Xavier from the A-10) with their A-10 Tournament performance. This marked the first time since 1996 the Minutemen had played in the semifinals – ending GW’s four-year spot in that round. Despite GW’s recent success in the quarterfinals, Thursday’s defeat was the third straight year the Colonials’ A-10 run has ended in a blowout loss.
I think (this win) ranked pretty high (in my career), said UMass Coach Bruiser Flint. In his fourth year as head coach at UMass, Flint replaced John Calipari, who exited the GW locker room Thursday with Tom Penders. Calipari was hired the next day as head coach at the University of Memphis.
The play of freshmen Chris Monroe (15 points and nine rebounds) and Brown was a shining example of what GW has to look forward to next year. A-10 Rookie of the Year Brown had his ninth 30-point game Thursday, and on a free throw in the second half officially scored more points in a season than any Colonial ever has. He finished with 738, 15 better than Bob Tallent’s 1968-’69 mark.
Brown also annihilated one of Shawnta Rogers’ GW records, attempting 277 three-pointers to Rogers’ 238 last season. GW also scored a record 2,417 points this year. The previous high was 2,414 in 1997-’98. GW’s offense (80.6 points per game) ranked 13th in the nation, but GW also allowed a school-record 2,443 points this year, topping the old mark of 2,432.
With Brown’s season done, his season scoring average (24. 6 points per game) ranks third all-time in GW history behind Tallent (28.9 in 1968-’69) and Joe Holup (25.0 in 1955-’56). To become the first freshman to lead the NCAA in scoring, he must hope that Courtney Alexander of Fresno State University has a very poor game in the NCAA Tournament. That became remotely possible Sunday night, when it was announced Fresno State will play the University of Wisconsin Thursday. Wisconsin ranks fourth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing only 55.8 points per game.
Alexander has a 25.3 points per game average. Assuming he plays just this one game, he must score six points or less for Brown to overtake him.
The 32-team NIT field was announced after 11 p.m. Sunday. In addition to UMass and Xavier from the A-10, a total of five GW opponents were selected. GW went 3-4 in games vs. those teams. Every team selected for the NIT had a winning record except for Rutgers and Penn State, who both had 15-15 marks.
The NCAA Tournament field, announced Sunday evening, included three A-10 teams, second-seeded Temple (who won their first A-10 Tournament since 1990), Dayton (No. 11 seed) and St. Bonaventure (No. 12 seed). GW Athletic Director Jack Kvancz again served on the nine-person NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.
GW played seven teams this season that made the NCAA Tournament and went 5-3 in games vs. those teams, something GW will undoubtedly look to as a positive from this year.
It’s been a great year, Penders said. It could have been a disaster. Some magazines (The Sporting News) picked us to be (No.) 170.
I’ve learned a lot, grown a lot, Brown said. I just had a lovely time. If that was it, no NIT – I had a lovely time. I would say the season was a success because next year we’ll know the level people play at.
I’ve had fun this year, Monroe said. It’s my first year in college basketball, the traveling, going to different arenas – it was a great experience. (The season) was a disappointment to me. I thought we could do better. I’m looking forward to next year.
The A-10 athletic directors voted Thursday to not replace departing member Virginia Tech this year. The A-10 will play without divisions next season.