PHILADELPHIA -The Colonials watched their brief second-half lead in the Atlantic 10 Tournament slip away much like their season slipped away in early February: quickly. Massachusetts ended the Colonials’ season with a 73-62 loss Thursday in the first round at the First Union Spectrum.
A-10 Second Team member Chris Monroe’s game-high 19 points led GW for the 23rd time this season, but like many past efforts it was not strong enough to carry the Colonials. GW’s 35 percent shooting could not overcome 10 three-pointers by the Minutemen, including one that finished off the Colonials (12-16) with just over a minute remaining.
After a basket and foul shot by Monroe, the Colonials trailed by only five with three minutes to go. With the score unchanged at the 1:30 mark, UMass came out of a timeout and made what coach Karl Hobbs called “the biggest play of the game,” when Kyle Wilson connected from behind the arc to put the Minutemen ahead by eight with 1:18 remaining.
“That shot broke our strength,” said Hobbs, after his rookie season finale, “because that was the stop we needed to give ourselves a chance to win the game.”
After trailing 32-28 at halftime, the Colonials started the second half on an 8-2 run and took their first lead of the game at the 17:36 mark when All-Rookie team member T.J. Thompson hit a long three-pointer from the top of the key.
GW could not hold the lead for long, as UMass responded with a 14-3 run that gave the Minutemen a 51-41 lead with just under 11 minutes remaining. They went on to shoot 54 percent in the second half, a major factor in the game.
“Our biggest problem was not being able to consistently stop them from scoring in the second half,” Hobbs said. “We had a decision to make between letting their big guys go one-on-one with us on the inside or double-teaming, and we felt that we had to double-team and force them to make outside shots.”
He continued, “Today they made those shots.”
T.J. Thompson scored 12 for GW, while senior co-captain Jaason Smith, playing in his last college game, had an average game with 8 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks.
“In order to win, you have to play defense and rebound,” Smith said. “I think our rebounding did pick up a little bit in the second half, but they just hit open shots.”
While GW said goodbye to Smith, freshman Tamal Forchion gave the team and the crowd of 1,500 – including highly-touted recruit Omar Williams – a glimpse of what expects to be a bright future. Forchion scored nine points and six rebounds even though early foul trouble limited his minutes. His two dunks and aggressive play sparked the team throughout the second half.
“It was very difficult for us to play without him,” Hobbs said.
The Minutemen were led by A-10 Rookie of the Year Anthony Anderson, who scored 16, and had four players score in double figures. Shannon Crooks added 14 points and 6 assists, drawing praise from head coach Steve Lappas for his “unselfishness.”
UMass, which also knocked outGW in the opening round two years ago has won 11 straight first rounds. GW also fell to 14-26 all-time in the A-10 Tournament and has now lost five in a row to UMass.
First-year head coach Hobbs said he was pleased with the season and appreciative of his players’ commitment.
“The terrific thing was I had a group of kids who weren’t the most talented, but they were committed to learning, and they showed character, effort and enthusiasm throughout the entire year,” he said.