SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I.- The GW’s men’s basketball team was forced to practice in a cold gym Friday, the day before its 82-78 win over Rhode Island that gave the Colonials (15-4, 6-1 Atlantic-10) sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10.
The low temperature, not a favorite of any athlete, aggravated junior Maureece Rice’s lingering cough and cold, but Rice was his cool self Saturday, scoring 27 points and hitting all 10 of his free throws.
“It was one of those nights where I was just feeling it from the beginning,” Rice said in between coughs.
He “felt it” from the beginning, but it was during the game’s last minute that he was at his best. After Rhode Island junior Will Daniels tied the game at 73 with a little more than a minute left, GW coach Karl Hobbs called a timeout, after which Rice immediately swished a three with a man in his face.
Rice added four free throws in the final 16 seconds to help the Colonials keep its lead. As a team, GW made 16 of 18 free throws, its best performance of the year.
“I’m ecstatic,” Hobbs said. “We needed every single free throw tonight. When you’re on the road, you’ve got to catch breaks and the ball has to bounce your way a little bit.”
Rice’s backcourt mate, senior Carl Elliott, did what he traditionally does – made big plays as the clock ticked towards zero. Down four with about five minutes left, Elliott, who finished with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists, stroked two threes within a minute, then hit two free throws with 28 seconds left to put the team up four.
“When it gets under five minutes, we really seem to come together,” Hobbs said. “We really seem to focus and guys seem to understand the situation.”
Hobbs spoke glowingly about freshman Travis King, who showed no signs of timidity in hitting a contested three-pointer that give GW the lead with about two minutes remaining. King’s role, Hobbs said, is to take the onus of handling the ball off of Rice and Elliott, allowing them to score more.
Along with free throws, GW’s lack of turnovers allowed it to overcome a nine-point deficit with 10:35 remaining in the game. The Colonials turned the ball over only once in the second half, giving them an opportunity to score on every possession and preventing Rhode Island fast breaks.
The Rams were without their only senior, center Darrell Harris, who did not play due to a high ankle sprain. Considering Hobbs said that his team’s weakness was stopping “big, strong and physical” players, the 6-foot-10, 220-pound center may have changed the outcome in URI’s favor had he played.
Daniels and sophomore Jimmy Baron led URI with 17 points each, with Baron hitting five of 10 three pointers.
“I’m sweating just hearing his name,” Hobbs said of Baron. “When we came into this game, he was the one guy we were concerned about … He’s got a good argument to be first team all-league.”
Sophomore Rob Diggs scored 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting for GW and senior Dokun Akingbade scored 11, shooting five-for-five. Each team shot 50.9 percent from the field.
Hobbs previously told his team that a four game in-conference winning streak would go a long way towards winning the conference; the win over the Rhode Island was their fifth straight and gave them a half-game lead over the Rams in the conference.
The Colonials continue their three-game road trip Wednesday when they travel to Dayton, followed by a game against St. Louis Saturday in Missouri.