As Ohio goes, so goes the regular season.
The situation might not be as dramatic as the old political adage attests, but with wins at Dayton and Xavier this week, the GW men’s basketball team will be two steps closer to its first Atlantic 10 West title since 1999.
The Colonials (17-5, 9-3 A-10) will play the third-place Musketeers (13-10, 7-5 A-10) Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. at the Cintas Center before facing the second-place Flyers (15-8, 8-4 A-10) at UD Arena Saturday at noon.
Junior forward Mike Hall readily acknowledges his team’s recent struggles in the Buckeye State. In his two-plus years at GW, the Colonials have never beaten Xavier or Dayton on their respective home courts. In his three-plus years as GW’s head coach, Karl Hobbs’ club has had the same results.
First and foremost, the Colonials are focusing on their initial task: Xavier.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Hall said after Saturday’s win over Duquesne. “I haven’t even been close in a game there yet.”
He is not quite correct. On the road two seasons ago, All-American David West tipped in a shot at the buzzer to give the Musketeers a one-point win over GW. Last season, Xavier beat the Colonials by 17 in Cincinnati.
If the Colonials needed more motivation for Wednesday night’s game, they can find it in the teams’ last meeting on Jan. 25. GW had a two-point lead late, but Xavier freshman Stanley Burrell connected on a 25-foot rainbow three-pointer to give his team a last-second victory.
The shocker seems to have zapped the Colonials to life again, as Hobbs’ squad has won five in a row.
“It’s a big road trip. It really shows how far along we’ve come this season,” Hall said. “But it’s going to be tough.”
If the Musketeers stay true to form, they will play zone defense, which is something that GW has had a tough time with. It bothered the Colonials in the loss on Jan. 26 – they scored 65 points, matching their second lowest output of the season. (They also scored 65 in a loss at West Virginia University on Dec. 29).
After his team dismantled Duquesne Saturday, Hobbs praised the Musketeers, whom Dayton nipped 59-55 that afternoon.
“I think Xavier is the most talented team in the league,” he said. “I think they’re more talented than us. I said that the first time I saw them play. Just physically, they’re the most imposing team.”
When the league rivals met last month, GW was playing its worst stretch of basketball of the season. The Colonials still had control of the game late, and all senior T.J. Thompson needed to do was hit a couple of free throws to seal it.
Instead, he missed the front end of the one-and-one, and Burrell soon dropped his bomb to win it for Xavier. But like the teams’ first meeting last year, the game was a turning point, this time for the Colonials.
Hobbs said the Colonials put themselves in position to win down the stretch and played with confidence, which he did not think happened in a close loss to Massachusetts a few weeks prior.
“I think for me,” Hobbs said, “it’s all about focusing in on our execution. I’m not worried about results; I’m more concerned about the process.”
The Colonials followed the Xavier loss with a solid win over the Flyers on Jan. 30, who also play on an imposing home court.
To keep momentum going, to beat Xavier, to beat Dayton and to win an A-10 West title, Hobbs said the Colonials must stay loose, which they were not during their mid-season slump.
“The absolute worst thing that can happen is that we can lose a basketball game,” Hobbs said. “That being said, we’re going to go there, and we’re going to try and win the basketball game.”