Between the lines: Buff ‘n blue balls

Like that girl you meet in a bar who gives you her number but doesn’t return your calls, the Colonials are a tease when it comes to big games against Top 25 teams. They excite you by leading or staying close in the first half, they taunt you further with a second half run, and when you finally believe it’s going to happen, they leave you sitting there with nothing to celebrate at the end of the night.

In December, it happened against Texas and Maryland. GW stayed close to the Longhorns for 35 minutes, trailing by two with five minutes left as fans at the MCI Center clamored for an upset of the second-ranked team in the nation. Then the last five minutes of the game happened. Texas 100, GW 92.

The next day against then-No. 8 Maryland, GW led by as many as 12 points early but let the game slip away in the second half. Maryland 92, GW 83.

Then Tuesday night, in front of a packed and raucous student section at the Smith Center, GW took a one-point lead with less than 10 minutes remaining only to be outscored by 13 the rest of the way.

What this shows is that the Colonials, aside from being a tease, are an interesting and sometimes frustrating mix of talent and inexperience right now. Their talent is evident in their ability to play with these teams – look no further than Tuesday night.

Every one of GW’s freshmen showed they can play with the A-10’s best. Omar Williams had 13 points and nine rebounds, including a dunk over David West that was ranked second on SportsCenter’s “Top Plays.” Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Mike Hall combined for 17 points and 14 rebounds, and even Alexander Kireev showed some toughness in his 13 minutes of play. That’s to say nothing of the combined 31 points from guards Chris Monroe and T.J. Thompson.

Win or lose, that’s talent. But where inexperience really comes into play is in crunch time, and that’s why talent hasn’t been enough for GW to finish off these games.

“The toughest part when you’re trying to mature is being able to play with that much energy and then executing when it comes time to slow down and set the proper screens,” GW head coach Karl Hobbs said. “The next step for us is being able to execute in those situations when we’re up one or down one and being able to make the correct play. I think once we’re able to do that, we’ll do a better job taking care of games under the four-minute mark.”

Tuesday night’s game showed how close GW is to getting to where they want to be talent-wise, but the execution Hobbs is talking about, or lack thereof, shows how far GW still is from teams like Xavier.

Donning the away jerseys Tuesday was a team that exemplifies exactly where GW wants to be, not in playing style but in maturity and status. With Lionel Chalmers back, Xavier has a starting lineup of two seniors, two juniors and a sophomore, including preseason All-American forward David West and rising star Romain Sato. They’ve been in the Top 25 for a year, they’ve been to the NCAA Tournament and they have that intangible experience to go with their talent.

The Colonials saw exactly what maturity means Tuesday night, as Xavier had an answer for every GW run and maintained their poise regardless of the score. They walked on to the court with a look on their faces that said, “we know we’re going to win,” and that didn’t change when GW took the lead late in the game. That only comes with experience, and that’s what the Colonials lack that makes them such a tease.

“We could tell that they were very poised when we made our run against them,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “It didn’t phase them whatsoever. They just pulled it out.”

The rookie continued, “I definitely think we’re maturing game after game. I’m just hoping we’ll be able to pull out one of these close games against tough teams. It’s going to happen sooner or later.”

While GW fans, who haven’t seen a winning season in four years, may be growing impatient with claims of what’s to come “later,” don’t expect the Colonials to pull out games like Tuesday night until at least next year. Until then, just enjoy the innocent flirtation for what it is: a tease.

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