This one was for coach.
In the midst of an extremely difficult couple of days for Karl Hobbs, the GW men’s basketball team came up with one of its biggest wins of the season, a 68-39 drubbing of Rhode Island in front of 6,306 fans at the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. on Saturday afternoon.
Hobbs’ nephew Jerome died in a Boston area car crash early Thursday morning and still coached Saturday.
“We knew it would be tough,” sophomore guard Carl Elliott said in a telephone interview after the game. “But if we won, we knew it would make (coach Hobbs’) life a little bit easier right now.”
Hobbs said the game helped him narrow his focus. It gave him a few hours to escape, to think about something else.
“As you know, I get so wrapped up because I’m a competitor,” he said over the phone while driving to Boston to be with his family after the win. “But sometimes things happen in life that put it all in perspective. This put things in better perspective for me.”
To put the victory in perspective, the Colonials (19-7, 11-5 Atlantic 10) clinched their first A-10 West crown since 1999 and the first under Hobbs. GW is the West’s top seed in this week’s conference tourney, which is set to begin Wednesday at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati.
“Four years ago we were the worst team in the Atlantic 10,” associate head coach Steve Pikiell said. “The program has come a long way since then. We’re the number one seed in a tough bracket with a lot of good teams. I just think it’s a great tribute to the program.”
After a first-round bye, Hobbs’ squad will take on the winner of East No. 4 Fordham and West No. 5 Duquesne on Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
Elliott had 14 points Saturday, as J.R. Pinnock had another strong offensive game off the bench, scoring 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting, including a pair of key three-pointers in the first half. Junior Mike Hall was once again solid in the low post, grabbing 11 boards to go along with six points. Senior Scott Hazelton scored a team-high 12 points for the Rams (6-21, 4-12 A-10).
Coming off a frustrating home loss to East Division champion St. Joseph’s, the Colonials needed a strong season-ending performance. Rhode Island came in on a hot streak, winners of two straight – against the Hawks and Temple no less.
“They had to do it in a pressure situation,” Hobbs said of the Colonials’ performance Saturday. “They fought through high expectations, they kept their composure, and the game got a little rough, but they really responded tremendously.”
It was senior day at URI, and the Rams came out slugging – literally. The league’s top offensive rebounding team pounded on GW early, taking a 10-6 lead at the 16:15 mark, and the game almost turned ugly.
At 15:38, Carl Elliott received a technical after tossing the ball at a group of Rams after a sequence in which Hall ended up on the ground after getting tangled up with a Rhode Island player. Less than a minute later, Randy Brooks and Pinnock were both teed up after exchanging pleasantries under the basket.
After that, both squads settled down, and GW found its offensive groove, taking a 14-13 lead with 10:07 left and never trailing the rest of the game. Pinnock hit treys on back-to-back possessions to put GW up 21-15 with 9:02 left in first, and the Colonials closed out the half by outscoring URI 16-12. They took a 37-27 advantage into the break.
“We talked about (Rhode Island playing aggressive) before the game,” Elliott said. “They play tough, but after it started we responded and we pulled it out.”
The Rams did cut the lead to nine with less than 10 minutes to go in the game but never threatened after that. GW held URI to just 12 points in the second half and a putrid 25 percent shooting for the game. The Colonials shot 52 percent from the field and converted 18 Rams turnovers into 24 points.
GW allowed only 39 points, the season-low for an opponent.
“I think our defense is improving, at times we looked terrific,” Pikiell said. “That’s the kind of defense we need in the A-10 Tournament. Teams that can’t defend pack their uniforms and go home.”
In the wake of the dominant win, Pikiell took time to reflect on the events of the past couple of days. The passing of a family member is not easy, he said.
“It’s never a phone call you want to get,” he said. “But to come into a place like this and win, it was a very rewarding experience.”