PHILADELPHIA – When Temple defeated Massachusetts for the Atlantic 10 Championship Saturday night, every GW basketball fan had to wonder what if. What if the Colonials defeated Temple in the semifinal round. What if the Colonials got another shot at the fourth-seeded Minutemen.
The GW men’s basketball team came that close to a championship game and a shot at an automatic NCAA berth Friday night, but the Owls knocked off the Colonials 77-76 after Temple’s Lynn Greer hit three free throws with 2.9 seconds left.
The Colonials earned their match with Temple after upsetting Xavier 83-74 in Thursday’s quarterfinals round. GW defeated Duquesne in the opening round.
The loss to Temple ended GW’s season at 14-18, its worst final record since 1988-89.
Mike King walked out from the visitors’ locker room at Philadelphia’s First Union Spectrum with tears in his eyes. So did Patrick Ngongba. A season-ending 77-76 semi-final Atlantic 10 Tournament loss in the final seconds to Temple was that painful for the GW men’s basketball team.
“It really hurts because we outplayed them and I thought we deserved to win the basketball game,” GW head coach Tom Penders said.
In a season of disappointment and frustration, the last few days had been GW’s most confident and promising. After impressive victories over Duquesne and then Xavier, the Colonials looked for their first A-10 final appearance since 1998. In their bid for a second upset in two nights, GW set the tempo and held the momentum and lead for much of the evening.
“We knew we had them,” King said. “We had them on the ropes. We were up ten.”
But seventh-seeded GW (14-18) could only watch helplessly as Temple senior Lynn Greer stepped to the line for three free throws with Temple (20-12) behind 76-74. GW could only watch Greer, an 82-percent foul shooter, swish them all with 2.9 seconds left, completing the Owls’ comeback from a ten-point deficit in the final three minutes.
“I felt for the seniors more so than the underclassman,” Penders said. “I feel for all of them because they really became a family late in the year and the way they played in this tournament should make everybody proud that follows George Washington.”
With the crowd of 13,796 on its feet in the final seconds, Greer appeared to lean into Ngongba, drawing a shooting foul on the GW senior from behind the three-point arc. Ngongba came off his man to double-team the Temple shooter in front of the Owls bench.
“The last play was run for Quincy (Wadley),” Greer said. “But there was only nine seconds left and I knew we didn’t have that much time to develop a play, so I looked for my own shot. Coach always told me to try to draw the foul on a last second shot, and when I saw Ngongba run out at me, I just tried to just jump into his arms.”
The foul call was heavily criticized by the Colonials. After Greer’s final free throw, GW’s SirValiant Brown dribbled up the court and threw a half-court shot that hit hard off the backboard and bounced away.
“(Greer) jumped right into Ngongba,” King said. “So I really don’t believe it was a foul, especially if you jumped into him. There should have been no call.”
GW led throughout the second half, relinquishing in the final seconds a lead that had grown to double-digits earlier.
Ahead 75-72 with 14.1 seconds left, the Colonials chose to foul Kevin Lyde (17 points), sending him to the line for a one-and-one. After making both free throws, GW called a timeout. On the in-bounds play along the baseline, Greer grabbed King at half court, sending the GW senior to the foul line with no time expiring.
“Greer had both hands around (King) and then pulled him down, 50, 60 feet away from the ball,” Penders said. “It was a blatant intentional foul. The ball wasn’t even in-bounded.”
King, who began his career shooting critical free throws, went to the line in the final seconds of his final game and made his first. But when King’s second attempt rolled off the front of the rim, Temple grabbed the rebound and called timeout, setting up Greer’s late heroics.
“We were very disappointed,” King said. “You hold the lead for that long and then at the end of the game you let the refs decide the game instead of the players.”
Greer got red-hot in the nick of time for Temple, scoring 11 of his 24 points in the final three minutes. Greer nailed a three-pointer and then scored off a steal to bring the deficit to 70-65 with about two minutes to play.
The Colonials continued to hold onto their tight lead thanks to Brown’s shooting touch. The GW sophomore scored 24 points on 8-of-19 shooting, and showed the ice in his veins when he hit a jumper over Greer with 24.8 seconds left to give the Colonials a 75-72 lead.
“Great coaching. (Penders) had them prepared,” Temple head coach John Chaney said. “We were faced with a tough situation. They scored 40 points at halftime. Brown had a tough year, but today he just punished us, really punished us.”
The Colonials shot 12-for-24 from three-point range and made 20-of-24 free throws. King scored 19 points and grabbed eight rebounds in his final GW game while Chris Monroe added 15 points.
Temple’s Quincy Wadley made four three-pointers and scored 19 points. Greg Jefferson supplied bench support, scoring seven points and pulling down nine rebounds.
GW led 40-37 at halftime. Opening the second half, GW trailed 44-43, the only time until the final 2.9 seconds that the Colonials would fall behind Temple. The Colonials held a 57-47 lead with 12:22 left after a Brown three-pointer, and 63-52 with 7:43 left after Brown converted a fast-break layup.
Temple led 9-5 early in the game, but five unanswered GW baskets, which included back-to-back three-pointers by Monroe and Brown, gave the Colonials an 18-9 lead. GW led by as many as 11 points in the first half on three different occasions. Temple never led GW by more than four points at any point in the game.
Senior Bernard Barrow did not play in the game, but Penders said Barrow might have been ready for a final game if GW had won. The loss was GW’s third of the season to Temple and fifth straight to the Owls. The last Colonials win over Temple came in the 1998 A-10 semifinal game.
GW 83 Xavier 74
Thursday, March 8
Things started to become a little interesting at the Atlantic 10 Tournament Thursday night as the Colonials upset Xavier 83-74 in the quarterfinal round at the First Union Spectrum.
Xavier (21-7) swept the regular season series against GW. SirValiant Brown led GW scorers with 19 points while Chris Monroe scored 17 points and pulled down 12 rebounds. Mike King scored 18.
A-10 Player of the Year David West, a Colonials-killer this season, scored 20 points for Xavier, but only managed three in the second half. He did not score in the final 14:50 of the game.
“We used five different guys against him,” said Penders, according to GW Sports Information. “We just kept switching people, and each guy played differently.”
The Colonials and Musketeers were tied at the half 42-42, and Xavier trailed the closely contested match-up 72-70 with 3:03 remaining after a Kevin Frey (20 points) basket. The Colonials went on a game-ending 11-2 run to capture the victory and keep their postseason hopes alive. King completed a three-point play at 1:43 to make it 75-70, and Monroe scored four points in the run to put Xavier away.
-Lauren Silva contributed to this report.