There were eight seconds left on the clock, the game was tied and GW men’s basketball coach Karl Hobbs had a play all drawn up in his head. But when his players huddled around the bench, junior T.J. Thompson wouldn’t hear a word of it.
“Coach had called timeout and he was about to draw up a play, and I just looked him in the eye and told him not to draw up a play, that I wanted to take the shot and create it on my own,” Thompson said. “And I told my teammates if we didn’t win it then, we were going to win it in overtime.”
No overtime period would be necessary, as Thompson took the ball on the inbound pass, dribbled through the lane and made the lay-up, giving the Colonials a 66-64 win over Dayton at the Smith Center. As the buzzer sounded, students mobbed the court to celebrate with players and coaches for several minutes.
“I was trying to coach,” Hobbs said. “I had my play. I had it in my mind, I had it written up, I knew exactly what I was going to run, I had the play, and this guy said, ‘Coach, just let me take it.’ And I just looked in his eyes and saw the confidence. It was as good a play as a guy can make, and this is as big a win as I’ve been involved with other than winning a national championship.”
A deafening crowd of 5,033 marked the biggest Smith Center turnout for a GW basketball game since March 4, 2000. With the win, GW (15-8, 9-3 Atlantic 10) moved within one game of the first-place Flyers (20-5, 10-2 A-10) in the A-10 West and matched its highest win total since the 1999-2000 season.
“It was by far the best thing I’ve ever been a part of,” said sophomore Mike Hall, who had team-highs of 16 points and eight rebounds for GW. “My heart is still racing right now. For the whole past week we’ve heard people talking about how this is the biggest game and we have to play well, and I’m just glad we came out with the win … It feels like it may be a turning point in our season.”
The turning point of the game came during a five-minute stretch in the second half. Dayton had turned a nine-point halftime deficit into a seven-point lead with 8:42 remaining, but GW came back to tie the game at 59 with 3:49 left and traded baskets with the Flyers until Thompson’s lay-up decided the game.
“In that situation, most teams don’t want to foul, so the smartest thing was to try to attack them, because they are going to get out of the way,” Thompson said. “I’m small and there was some big guys there, so I had to kind of duck under them and go by them.”
But before that could happen, Hobbs said the enthusiasm of the students in attendance helped his team erase Dayton’s lead and get back into the game.
“When (Dayton) made their run, the students wouldn’t let us lose tonight,” he said. “I could hear them in the background yelling, ‘Defense, coach!'”
That defense held the Flyers to 38 percent shooting on the night, including 35 percent in the first half. Early in the game, the Colonials frustrated Dayton with its full-court press, forcing eight turnovers.
“What we’re trying to do with (the press) is just wear teams down,” Hobbs said. “We want that last four minutes for those guys’ legs to be so tired that they can’t make those threes. I thought the pressure really bothered them in the sense that it really wore them down.”
The game went back and forth for much of the first half, with five ties and eight lead changes, but Thompson beat the buzzer for the first time with a three-pointer that sent the Colonials into the locker room up 39-30.
With four games left in the regular season, the National Invitation Tournament and NCAA Tournament are both within reach for GW. But before that happens, Hobbs stressed that his team must learn to win on the road, where they have won just three games this season.
“When we’re at home, win, lose or draw, you kind of know how we’re going to play from an energy standpoint,” he said. “But we gotta figure out how we can sustain that and take it on the road.”
“If it happens, it happens,” he said. “But right now we got a big game coming Saturday, so before we’ll be an NCAA Tournament team we have to win on the road.”
That game will be at Duquesne at 4 p.m. on Saturday. After that, the Colonials (11-0 at home) will have a chance to record their first perfect home season since 1998-99.