BB&T Classic: Colonials lose two in near upsets of top-ranked teams

The Colonials opened up sizeable first-half leads on two of the top 10 teams in the country this weekend but still walked out of the MCI Center winless in the eighth annual BB&T Classic. After nearly upsetting No. 2 Texas in the first round Saturday, GW saw its early 12-point lead over No. 9 Maryland slip away and fell to the defending national champions 82-93 in Sunday’s consolation game.

GW (3-3) met its area rival after the unranked Fighting Irish upset the Terrapins Saturday to advance to Sunday’s championship. Notre Dame (8-1) also upset Texas (5-1) 98-92 in the title game. With the losses, GW finished last in the tournament, but senior Chris Monroe said the Colonials made a statement with their surprisingly competitive play against top-ranked teams.

“It showed a lot of character in our freshmen,” he said, patting Mike Hall on the back after Saturday’s game. “They’ve come a long way in the mental aspect of the game, hanging in there with the number two team in the country. Most freshmen don’t see that.”

The Colonials led Texas by two points at halftime of Saturday’s game and trailed by only two points before the Longhorns pulled away in the final five minutes. GW came out strong in the first half again Sunday but could not hold off Maryland guards Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas, who scored 27 points apiece as the Terrapins opened up a 20-point lead in the second half.

Both games were high scoring affairs, as Texas and GW’s combined 192 points Saturday set a new tournament record. GW’s defense allowed a total of 198 points during the tournament.

GW Head Coach Karl Hobbs said he was proud of his team’s effort in both games but the losses were tough for his players to swallow.

“We found out a little about ourselves, and I think we can be a pretty good team if we make the big plays when we need to and take care of the ball,” he said. “The guys were very disappointed that they didn’t beat Texas. We really felt like we could win that game, so we’re going to have to bounce back from this.”

Hobbs’ squad will have a chance to bounce back Wednesday night when they travel to Boston University for a 7 p.m. game.

Maryland 83, GW 82
Sunday, Dec. 7

When GW opened up a double-digit first half lead on Maryland (4-2), it appeared a repeat of Saturday’s thriller was in the making. But Steve Blake and Drew Nicholas quickly put that notion to rest, combining for nine three-pointers after the first 10 minutes of the game and helping the Terrapins shoot 55 percent from the field. Blake’s career-high 27 points overshadowed his team-high seven assists.

“Blake and Nicholas played the way seniors are supposed to play, particularly when they found themselves in a hole,” Hobbs said. “They played like guys that won a national championship last year, and they were the difference in the game.”

Freshman Omar Williams had a breakout game in front of 13,209 at the MCI center with a season-high 17 points but showed his inexperience by turning the ball over five times.

Monroe led GW with 19 points despite shooting just four-for-16 from the field, bringing him down to 35 percent shooting on the season. But Hobbs said he is not concerned.

“Chris hasn’t been doing anything differently,” he said. “He’s just missing some shots that normally go down for him, and those shots will go down. On a bad night, he still gets 19 points.”

Sophomore T.J. Thompson added 15 points and a game-high 10 assists for the Colonials and played all but one minute of the game at point guard, while backup Darnell Miller sat the bench with a back injury. Thompson’s 7.4 assists per game entering the tournament ranked seventh in the nation behind Texas’ T.J. Ford (7.6 apg).

The amount of minutes Thompson and other key players tallied combined with the intensity GW had to play with made fatigue a major factor in Sunday’s game, Hobbs said.

The Terrapins came into the game on a two-game losing streak, their longest in nearly two years, which head coach Gary Williams said gave the team added motivation.

“This became a big game when we lost (Saturday),” he said. “I know I was fired up.”

The Colonials tried to implement a fast break offense this season but were limited by Maryland’s defense and high shooting percentage Sunday. The Terrapins outscored GW on the fast break 21-3.

“(GW) is as good as anybody at getting the ball in quick, even after you score,” Williams said. “We just tried to get back before they could get the ball down the court, and even though they hurt us a bit with their half court offense, we were able to take away their transition.”

GW opened up an early 12-7 lead at the 16:49 mark on a Williams’ layup and extended that lead to double digits midway through the half. With just over 11 minutes remaining, a tip in by freshman Pops Mensah-Bonsu put GW ahead 29-17 for its largest lead of the game. But Maryland rallied to end the half on a 31-14 run as Blake and Nicholas began to convert from behind the arc. Maryland shot 70 percent from three-point range in the game.

“It took us a while to get going,” Williams said. “But we found a way to shut them down offensively, especially with their offensive rebounding. That really hurt us for a while.”

Indeed, GW won the rebounding battle 42-31 and had 29 second chance points compared to Maryland’s 12. But the Terrapins picked up right where they left off at the start of the second half, opening with a 30-15 run in the first nine minutes to go up 78-58.

The Colonials chipped away at Maryland’s lead for the rest of the game, coming within nine points when Omar Williams scored with 2:28 left to make the score 86-77. But GW missed several free throws and layups in the closing minutes, while Maryland made key free throws of their own.

After the game, coach Williams praised GW’s performance in the tournament.

“What they did yesterday against the number two team in the country, being up at halftime and having a chance to win that game, it just shows how far Karl has got his team playing,” he said. “We knew we were going to have a tough game today.”

Texas 100, GW 92
Saturday, Dec. 7

For 36 minutes Saturday, the Colonials looked as if they were within reach of pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the 2002-03 college basketball season. But the last four minutes of the game were all the Longhorns needed to complete the comeback.

GW led by as many as eight points in the first half and went into the locker room with a 45-43 lead, quickly catching the attention of fans around the country as national television networks showed updates of a brewing upset.

But Texas rallied with a 10-2 run to regain the lead in the second half. While two free throws by Chris Monroe cut the lead to 74-72 with 5:21 left, that was as close as GW would get, as Texas went on a 15-6 run over the next 3:40 and never looked back.

“We felt coming in that if we were able to rebound and hold them to 75 or 80 points, we would win the game,” Hobbs said. “But ,unfortunately, they brought their offensive game as well. There’s a reason why they’re the number two team in the country.”

Monroe led the Colonials in scoring with 26 points but, more noticeably, a career-high 24 points from Thompson sparked GW through most of the game. With the effort, Thompson outplayed preseason All-American point guard T.J. Ford, who finished with 16 points on five-for-15 shooting for Texas, in front of a crowd of 15,778.

“I just took what the defense gave me,” Thompson said. “Coach (Hobbs) told me to be a little more aggressive, but the lanes were there.”

Junior James Thomas led Texas with 26 points and 10 rebounds and played a key role in the Longhorns’ ability to pull away towards the end of the game. The 6-foot-8, 235-pound center had 11 points including three dunks in the final four minutes.

“When the kid comes out, he looks like one of those WWF wrestlers,” Hobbs said of Thomas. “He’s as strong a guy as we’ll see all year. When the game was on the line, they went inside to him.”

Thomas scored only six points in nine first half minutes but was able to attack the Colonials on the inside in the second half as GW forwards Williams, Mensah-Bonsu (12 points), and Mike Hall (13 points) got into foul trouble. Williams fouled out with nearly 11 minutes left in the game, Mensah-Bonsu fouled out with 31 seconds remaining and Hall played with four fouls for the last 4:30 of the game.

The two teams were called for a combined 66 fouls and the 35 fouls called on Texas set a new tournament record, drawing criticism after the game from Thomas, who was one of five players on both teams to foul out of the game.

“The refs were making a lot of calls that I thought were bull crap,” he said. “But I guess it happens.”

Texas Head Coach Rick Barnes was also critical of the officials but credited GW for the near-upset.

“Give them credit, they did what they had to do to stay in the game,” he said. “They were able to drive the ball and Karl had a good game plan.”

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