PHILADELPHIA – With time expiring Saturday, Saint Joseph’s Rob Ferguson, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, launched a desperation three-pointer to try to throw a wrench into GW’s storybook season.
As the ball clanked against the back of the rim, the buzzer sounded, signaling the finality of No. 8 GW’s 64-62 win over the Hawks (10-11, 4-6 A-10), the last team to go undefeated in regular-season Atlantic 10 play. The blare of the buzzer meant much more than Saturday’s win for the Foggy Bottom crew.
It brought the Colonials to 20-1 and 10-0 in the A-10, the best 21-game start in program history. The 1953-1954 Colonials lost their 21st game to North Carolina State to start 19-2. The Colonials’ star then was center Joe Hollup, who led the nation in field goal percentage.
Saturday’s victory gave GW its first win in Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse since Feb. 7, 1998, during the Mike Jarvis era.
It meant that coach Karl Hobbs, often a wet towel on the media’s lauding of GW, could finally smile and enjoy himself.
“I’m excited about it,” Hobbs said Saturday in the post-game news conference. “I think it’s great. I’m going to try as best as I can to enjoy it. I’m going to try. I’m going to give it a college try. It’s a great honor.”
The honor is largely due to the senior class that Hobbs recruited in his first season as GW’s head coach. Seniors Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Mike Hall, Omar Williams, Alex Kireev and Dokun Akingbade suffered through two consecutive losing seasons before experiencing any success at GW.
Williams, a Philadelphia native, said the success the team is experiencing this year was unexpected in 2002.
“It’s great, that’s what I think it is,” Williams said standing at center court after the game Saturday. “Looking back on freshman year, you would’ve never thought we’d be here. We thought we’d be good but we didn’t know how good we’d be. Fortunately the hard work is paying off now.”
Mensah-Bonsu, who has often been the go-to guy in the paint, was sent to the line 19 times in the contest. The 6-foot-9 senior, who toyed with leaving GW for the professional ranks last year, said it’s important to ignore the rankings and the media hype that comes with a one-loss season.
“It feels good to have the best start in history but we can’t focus on that,” said Mensah-Bonsu, who had 21 points Saturday. “We are trying to make more history and win as many games as possible and beat every opponent they put in front of us.”
Looking at GW’s position makes Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli nostalgic. His 2003-2004 Hawks made the Elite Eight after marching through the regular season undefeated.
Martelli credited GW’s win to being able to control the game with playing their style of basketball regardless of being in front or behind.
“I don’t think it really mattered to them that they played us in this building or they played Xavier at Xavier,” a visibly perturbed Martelli said. “They just play to a standard that is beyond what anyone can give them. That’s what you do in these situations. It’s not the game, it’s not the entity of the game you’re playing against.” The Colonials beat Xavier in Cincinnati Feb. 2.
Martelli said GW’s biggest strength is their consistency.
“That’s to their strength,” Martelli said. “That’s what they do. They keep coming. I’m a fan of theirs. I watched that Xavier game. They just keep doing what they do. They don’t give you a different look.”
GW was able to keep that look the same by dictating the pace and tone of Saturday’s game. Rather than moving the ball around the perimeter like Saint Joseph’s, GW’s guards pounded the ball into Mensah-Bonsu Saturday.
Philadelphia native Maureece Rice, a sophomore, had 16 points in the contest. Juniors Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock and Carl Elliott dropped eight points a piece.
Saint Joseph’s had four players in double figures, led by 14 from Ferguson. Chet Stachitas and Dave Mallon had 12 a piece and Dwayne Lee had 11.
The win does not allow the GW squad to rest on their laurels, Hobbs said.
“Once again, I’m really happy for the seniors,” Hobbs said. “All the hard work all the things that they’ve done to put GW in this position. In the position to have a great season. That’s all we’ve done, put ourselves in the position.”
GW resumes its position Wednesday at the Smith Center, where they face Massachusetts at 7:30 p.m. Massachusetts devastated the Smith Center last January on an overtime tip-in that knocked GW out of the top-25 rankings.