Posted Saturday, March 18, 3:43 p.m.
Updated Saturday, March 18, 7:10 p.m.
GREENSBORO, N.C. – The buzzer in basketball signals finality and after a 74-61 loss to top-seeded Duke Saturday afternoon in North Carolina, it signaled much more for the George Washington men’s basketball team.
It signaled the absolute end to the collegiate athletic career of four players that re-established GW as a place to play and ultimately succeed in college basketball.
Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Omar Williams, Mike Hall and Alex Kireev have seen everything from a 5-11 Atlantic 10 record to a perfect conference mark. A first-round NIT exit to a Round of 32 loss to the top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament.
The Blue Devils will face Louisiana State University in their ninth consecutive Sweet 16.
And for head coach Karl Hobbs, even though a trip to the Round of 16 was in the cards with a victory Saturday, the contest had obvious distractions.
“Those guys have meant so much to me, and I don’t know how you can replace core guys like that,” a visibly upset Hobbs said. “They’re the absolute best.”
With the second-round exit in the Atlanta bracket, the Colonials end the 2005-2006 season at 27-3 and may go down in history as one of the best teams in University history.
For Mensah-Bonsu, who scored four points in 13 minutes, the loss, after a wildly successful season, is a dagger.
“It doesn’t really feel too good to lose,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “If we’re going to lose, I’d rather lose to a team that was better than us on that day, and Duke was the better team today. It showed that they are one of the best teams in the country.”
But for the big man, who flirted with leaving GW early for the professional ranks, the last four years have been about breaking through the purported glass ceiling placed above the boys from Foggy Bottom.
“It’s been great – some of the things we’ve been able to accomplish when you look at people’s expectations,” Mensah-Bonsu said of his time at GW. “It’s tough not to be sad about a loss but we were able to accomplish a lot this year.”
Disappointment about the season is not justified, junior Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock said.
“Look at our resume,” said Pinnock, who scored eight points and gave up three turnovers. “We’ve got nothing to be disappointed about. We’ve changed the way basketball is looked at (at GW).”
The way GW lost this one, is especially tough and left assistant coach Roland Houston wondering.
“What if we played our ‘B’ game,” Houston said, while contending that the Colonials played their “C-minus game.”
Shooting 30.9 percent from the floor and giving up 18 turnovers is uncharacteristic for the high-flying run-and-gun GW squad. The Blue Devils shot 47.7 percent and handled all the pressure GW attempted to exert.
Duke’s successful defense came by pushing the Colonial offense to the half court line, relegating GW’s offense to the success of offensive rebounds.
Hall, a forward from Chicago, seemed to guide the often-flustered Colonials. Shooting 4 for 9 from the floor and grabbing six rebounds, Hall had 13 points to lead GW. Omar Williams had his second double-double of March with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
For a team that has been oft-criticized for its unbalanced offense, Duke dispelled any idea of that Saturday. Senior guard J.J. Redick, an All-American and leading candidate for player of the year, had 20 points and four three pointers. Freshman guard Greg Paulus had 10 points, six assists and six turnovers; while classmate Josh McRoberts exerted dominance in the paint with 14 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski gave credit to his squad, saying freshman production helped.
“When my two freshmen are playing like that, it brings everybody together,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “They were playing with such enthusiasm. They’re very competitive kids, and they have such good game personalities.”
Senior All-American Shelden Williams had 17 points and 14 rebounds, pummeling the Colonials’ interior defense. Mensah-Bonsu, who drew the assignment to cover Williams, was limited in his playing time due to his sore knee, suffered against La Salle on Feb. 22. Hobbs contended that he did not want to jeopardize the professional future of the 6-foot-9 forward by overplaying him.
With the graduation of his first four GW recruits in May, Hobbs will look forward to a season that will return a bulk of this year’s squad. Although mentioned for a bevy of other national coaching jobs, Hobbs will re-evaluate his GW team when the time comes.
“We have a pretty good core returning, and I see no reason why we can’t be good,” Hobbs said. “Some time in September, I’ll evaluate my team, I’ll do an assessment, and I’ll place the expectations on this team.”