In a season built on defying expectations, the Colonials’ 86-85 overtime win over Charlotte Saturday and the fashion in which they closed the deal seemed only natural.
When senior Mike Hall missed a three-pointer from the top of the key with 11 seconds left, sophomore Maureece Rice hit the three from the corner to send the game into overtime.
With time expiring in overtime, an air ball launched by freshman Noel Wilmore that would have given GW a win was tipped in by junior Carl Elliott.
And that has been this season.
When a player falters, a teammate is there to recover. On a day that had all the makings for a 49ers upset on Senior Day, the Colonials came through to complete a 16-0 Atlantic 10 schedule, only the fourth of its kind in league history.
GW head coach Karl Hobbs, who won the NCAA championship as an assistant at Connecticut, said Saturday’s win had a special feeling.
“This has to rank up there as the No. 1 game since I’ve been coaching,” Hobbs said. “For it to end in such a dramatic fashion and put the end to these guys’ Senior Day, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
For graduating seniors Omar Williams, Mike Hall, Alex Kireev and Pops Mensah-Bonsu, the win closed out a four-year period that started with a 12-16 record and a first-round exit in the A-10 Tournament.
This year has brought the No. 6/7 Colonials (USA Today/Associated Press), and the four seniors who have spurred the success, a chance to have what Hobbs has called “a special season.” But at 26-1, Hobbs still said he’s not completely satisfied.
“I think what we can take from this game is that we had 18 turnovers, we didn’t shoot particularly well from the free throw line and when your season is hanging in the balance, which is what we are getting ready to approach, you have to correct those things,” Hobbs said.
But on Senior Day, nearly everyone showed up. Junior Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock had 19 points and seven rebounds to lead the Colonials. Two of the four seniors participating had double-digit points. Mike Hall had 13 points and 11 rebounds while Omar Williams put in 10 and had nine rebounds. Rice had 16 points in 30 minutes of play.
Charlotte (18-11, 11-5 A-10) got 31 from De’Angelo Alexander, who took 22 shots from the floor. Curtis Withers had 18 points and 15 rebounds.
The end of the game was a huge cluster of confusion, as Charlotte Coach Bobby Lutz went on the court to break up a scuffle between Hall and Goldwire. The officiating crew called a technical on Goldwire and a foul on Hall that gave the Colonials the possession that allowed Wilmore to take the shot.
Pinnock, who fouled out with 23 seconds remaining in overtime, praised his classmate Elliott.
“It was really hard for me because I had to sit there and watch the last minute or so,” Pinnock said. “If I’m ever in a desperate situation, I got to call this guy right here. He’s money.” Elliott similarly came up big last year in a win over Dayton, hitting a long three-pointer at the buzzer to stun an Ohio crowd.
After the win, GW students flooded the court for the first time since the Colonials’ 66-64 win over Dayton during the 2003-2004 season. The team stood on the scorers’ table with Hobbs and addressed the crowd. Hobbs expressed his appreciation for Mensah-Bonsu, who is sidelined until at least the NCAA tournament due to a torn meniscus.
The Colonials travel to Cincinnati Tuesday morning to prepare for Thursday’s matchup with the winner of the Rhode Island/Temple game. The Rams and Owls play Thursday at noon in the first round of the A-10 Tournament.
The mentality that the team adopted leaves no room for failure, Hall said.
“We feel like because of our experience and leadership and maturity we never think we’re going to lose,” Hall said. “We have confidence in our ability. We’re never concerned about losing.”
Early start for team
The Spirit Department organized a pep rally prior to the game. Hobbs, along with Mensah-Bonsu, spoke to the crowd and thanked the attending student body for making GW a special place to play. About 500 students attended the event.
Players signed autographs while the Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Association barbequed hot dogs.