Posted Friday, March 11, 11:53 p.m.
CINCINNATI – Early on, this one was about as dull as college basketball gets. The GW men’s basketball team and Temple were locked up in a cold-shooting and rebounding war, and the U.S. Bank Arena sounded as empty as the Reds’ ballpark next door.
As the second half began, however, the Colonials injected a bit of adrenaline into their few sedated fans in attendance by dominating the Owls down the stretch to pull out a 77-58 victory in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals Friday night. The announced attendance was 10,013, but the converted minor-league hockey arena did not appear to be that full.
“My message at halftime was to just settle down a little bit,” GW coach Karl Hobbs said. “I just thought we had so much energy. And as we like to say, we were flying around on defense … I just thought we were trying to do everything in a hurry.”
Hobbs’ squad is now one win away from a pair of program firsts: an Atlantic 10 Tournament Title and an automatic NCAA Tournament bid.
The Colonials will take on St. Joseph’s in the final Saturday evening at approximately 6 p.m. It will be their first appearance in the tournament’s championship game since 1998, and only the third time in school history.
In ’98, GW fell to Xavier, and in ’91, GW fell to Penn. State during former coach Mike Jarvis’s first year at GW. The game will be televised on ESPN2 and, strangely enough, Jarvis will provide color commentary.
Right now, it would seem as if GW is a lock for at least an at-large bid. However, with the national consensus being that the A-10 is having a down year, it is unclear whether the Colonials will be invited to the big dance if they lose tomorrow.
Once again, Hobbs tempered his enthusiasm, but still offered an opinion on the subject.
“They talk about your full body of work,” he said of college basketball experts. “I have no idea what that means. I think that means you’ve got to win every game if you’re in the Atlantic 10. I think that’s what they mean for the Atlantic 10. I don’t think that means the same thing for some of the other conferences.”
Friday night, GW at least looked like a tournament team, thrashing the
Owls in the second half. The Colonials led at the break 31-30, but caught fire about six minutes into the second. After Temple guard Mark Tyndale hit a pair of free throws that cut a four-point GW lead to 44-42 with 14:30 left in the game, the crew from Foggy Bottom went on a lightning quick 13-0 run to go up 57-42 with 10:07 to go.
Temple never threatened the rest of the way.
Sophomore guard J.R. Pinnock found his shooting touch in the second, scoring all of his game-high 16 points after the break. Four Colonials finished in double figures, as junior Mike Hall (11 points, 8 rebounds) and senior T.J. Thompson (11 points) both had strong offensive performances.
At the 14:39 mark in the first, Thompson’s only trey of the night gave him 224 for his career, which made him the program’s all-time three-point shooting leader, passing Shawnta Rogers and Kwame Evans, who each had 223 in their careers.
Junior forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu (14 points) had another solid night down low, showing off his developing post moves. He battled Temple defenders all night, and grabbed seven hard-fought rebounds.
At halftime, Thompson said GW focused on finding the six-foot-nine-inch teammate down low. “We wanted to get the ball to the big fella a little more,” he said. The strategy opened up the lanes for the rest of the Colonials, who shot 57 percent and outscored the Owls 46-28 in the second half en route to the victory.
The Colonials were a bit sluggish on offense to open the game, but Mensah-Bonsu made 3-of-4 free throw attempts to give GW an early 3-0 lead. After trailing in the game’s opening minutes, the Owls heated up, going on a quick 11-2 run to take a six point lead about four minutes in.
GW trapped early, but the Owls seemed almost overwhelmed as they were during the teams’ last meeting on the day before the Super Bowl. Still, the pressure defense caused Temple miscues (13 turnovers in the first, 19 for the game) the Colonials used to come alive and cut the Temple lead to 13-12 with 12:34 left in the half.
To overcome the sloppiness, Temple was physical early, out-rebounding GW 24-23 before the break. Tyndale and Butler combined for 14 boards in the half, but cold shooting (37.5 percent) prevented Temple from building a big lead.
At 7:58 in the first, GW took a 20-19 lead but like Temple, could not create a sizable gap due to shooting woes (31.4 percent). The Colonials still managed to take a 31-30 lead into the half.
Acting Temple coach Dan Leibovitz appeared weary in the post-game press conference, coming off a whirlwind month that saw head coach John Chaney get suspended after sending in Owl Nehemiah Ingram, a little used player, to the game to foul hard.
Ingram elbowed Bryant, who fell to the ground and broke his arm. Leibovitz said he wished he could have helped his club make the tourney.
“I just wish we could do it,” he said. “We work for a 73-year-old coach who belongs there and it kills me we can’t get them back to where they should be.”
St. Joe’s and Carroll on tap
Karl Hobbs accidentally called him “Matt” Friday evening, but you can bet he’ll know exactly where Pat Carroll is on the court Saturday night.
The six-foot-five-inch senior guard scored a career high 30 points in the Hawks’ win over hometown favorite Xavier in the early game Friday. According to Hobbs, he is the biggest match-up problem for GW, which lost convincingly to St. Joe’s at home on Mar. 1.
The Hawks controlled the tempo of that meeting, routinely reversing the ball on each possession, and launching three-pointers with only a few seconds remaining on the shot clock. Hobbs’ game plan sounded predictable.
“I think we’re going to try and speed the game up, try and play a game in the 80s,” he said. “They’re a team that wants to keep us somewhere in the 60s.”
St. Joe’s assistant, Monte Ross, seemed to echo Hobbs, except from the completely opposite perspective.
“Well I think anytime a team presses as much as they do – they want to get the game in a frenetic pace. We want to kind of depress the game, and play possession by possession,” he said. “I think it’s an interesting contrast of styles. Who’s ever able to enforce their will on the game will probably take it.”
He also pointed to the experience of his upperclassmen, who played deep into the NCAA Tournament last year.
“Carroll’s been professional,” Ross said. “He’s stepped up since January 1 in every game that we’ve played. And really, tonight was no different. He hit some really really big shots … I think anytime you play big games you lean on your seniors. You lean on guys who have been in big situations before. He’s played in Elite 8 games, in Sweet 16 games.”
Regardless of who wins, Ross also said he thinks both squads should be NCAA teams this year, even if the A-10 didn’t “take care of business in the non-conference” schedule.
“I think that the league kind of poses an interesting dilemma,” he said. “So hopefully we’ll both be able to go.”