As the clock ticked down Sunday afternoon, the Smith Center faithful waited for disaster to strike. The GW men’s basketball team was coming off last-second losses in its last two home games, and in a close game against Dayton, the 4,236 fans in attendance may have feared the worst.
But there would be no last second three-pointer or backdoor put-back to dash GW’s hopes against Dayton, as the Colonials defeated the Flyers 82-73. The Colonials (13-5, 5-3 A-10) were able to ignite their home crowd with an all-around solid performance to end a two-game losing streak and close the gap in the A-10 West. GW sits in second place, a half game behind the Flyers (12-6, 5-2 A-10).
Dayton connected on a Smith Center visiting team record of 14 three-pointers but could not stay with the Colonials down the stretch. With the score tied at 58 at the 10:50 mark, GW outscored the Flyers 24-15 to seal the game.
GW head coach Karl Hobbs said it was important that the Colonials limited their mistakes. Turnovers have plagued GW all season, but yesterday the Colonials only had 12.
“T.J. (Thompson) didn’t throw any overhead passes, Mike Hall didn’t get technicals,” Hobbs said. “I thought we did take care of the little things.”
Thompson, the team’s lone senior, said the Colonials’ play was due to a newly adapted mindset. He fought through a knee injury to score 15 points on 5-for-13 shooting.
“I think we started playing with a little sense of urgency,” Thompson said. “The season is coming to a close real quickly and we wanted to play with more emotion and energy.”
Hobbs emphasized to his squad that this may be the most important stretch of the program’s history.
“We’ve become a – for lack of a better word – a desperate basketball team,” Hobbs said. “We really felt like we needed to win this game. We felt like we needed to do whatever it took to win it.”
In the first half, the Colonials came out hot, going on a 14-2 run to take a 30-17 lead 7:09 remaining. Junior Mike Hall (15 points, 5 offensive rebounds) connected on two free throws after Dayton coach Brian Gregory was assessed a technical foul. The Flyers responded to the call with a flurry of outside jumpers. Their shooters sparked a 25-8 run that gave Dayton a 42-38 halftime lead.
The Flyers had an astonishing nine first-half three-pointers en route to breaking the Smith Center record. The Colonials said they knew they had to tighten up their defense around the perimeter to stop the Flyers.
“I think in the second half, our defense picked up,” Hobbs said. “We were conscious of the three-point shooting. We were playing at such a fast pace. I thought we got lucky. Our defense picked up a little better.”
GW was able to temper Dayton’s outside shooting, allowing five threes in the second half. The Colonials quickly cut Dayton’s lead, forcing four ties in the first 10 minutes of the half. After GW tied the game at 58 for the last time with 10:50 remaining, the Colonials went on a 16-4 run to open up a 12-point lead entering the last two minutes of the game.
Five Colonials finished in double figures. Leading the pack was sophomore Carl Elliott (18 points) and junior Pops Mensah-Bonsu (10). Mensah-Bonsu sported his new fitted mask to protect his injured nose. Junior Omar Williams scored 12 and sophomore Dokun Akingbade started for the first time of the season, scoring a career-high four points.
Beating Dayton has been a task Hobbs has been harping on all season.
“I’ve been saying this all along; we are chasing Dayton, Xavier,” he said. “Everything I’ve said from day one has been playing itself out pretty well.”
GW will now have a week off before traveling to Philadelphia to play Temple on Saturday.
“We couldn’t ask for a better time to have a week off,” Hobbs said. “After Temple, we will need another week off because we will be bruised.”
“We’ve struggled mentally with success early in the season. We had to deal with being the hunted,” Hobbs added. “Teams are playing their best when they play us. It’s a mental and physical adjustment because we haven’t experienced that yet. That’s the next step for this program.”