SACRAMENTO, March 15 — Before GW’s men’s basketball team’s game against Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA tournament, some members of the team shaved their heads to have a fresh look for a potential NCAA tournament run.
The ritual did create a new look, but not one the team wanted: the look of a team getting outplayed and out-hustled. The signs of growth displayed during their Atlantic 10 tournament run – the energy on defense, rebounding and ball movement – were still there, but they had switched sides. With the hair went the Colonials’ momentum, leaving the team looking like a group of Samsons. They lost 77-44.
After just four minutes, GW trailed 7-0, enough to force them to play catch-up for the rest of the game.
“From that point on it was just a matter of trying to survive,” GW head coach Karl Hobbs said. “We fell behind very, very quickly and that pretty much put us on heels for rest of the game.”
The press that had forced A-10 opponents into turnovers was useless against Vanderbilt players, who broke the defense down systematically by moving the ball before GW players could get to them, a strategy Hobbs called “perfect.”
“We realized if we just took care of the ball, we were going to get any shot we wanted,” Vanderbilt junior Shan Foster said.
Able to get any shot they wanted, Vanderbilt players chose good ones. Whether it was penetrating then kicking the ball out or swinging the ball around the horn, the entire team played in unison, and seven Vanderbilt players had six points or more.
“There’s nothing you can do, you just have to hope that they start missing,” junior guard Maureece Rice said. “But they have so many shooters, if one’s not on, another one is, so it’s hard to stop them.”
The numbers are ugly: the Colonials shot just 27.1 percent, turned the ball over 20 times and never led. No player scored more than Travis King’s nine points. Senior Carl Elliott shot just two for nine in his last game, while Rice, the team’s leading scorer, scored just three points and missed eight of nine shots.
With every possession seeming to go Vanderbilt’s way, it was only a matter of time before GW players accepted their fate. After watching a wide open three-pointer go halfway in the basket then roll out midway through the second half, Rice could not help but shake his head and smile.
“It was one of those days where my shots weren’t going in. They felt good but they kept going in and out,” Rice said. “You’re going to have good days and bad days; today was a bad day.”
Elliott and his fellow seniors Dokun Akingbade and Regis Koundjia will now move on, their collegiate athletic careers over. Elliott leaves as the winningest player in program history, with three NCAA appearances, two A-10 tournament titles and a regular season A-10 championship to his name.
“I enjoyed my experience here,” Elliott said. “For us to come this far with a young basketball team means a lot to me. They gave it 100 percent every day and I love them for that.”
While Rice said it was too soon to start looking toward next season, the team’s younger players, such as freshman forward Damian Hollis, will use the game as a learning experience. Hollis said he was nervous in the beginning of the game, a feeling that will likely fade during subsequent trips to the Tournament. With such a young team and low outside expectations, both Elliott and Hollis said they were glad to just make the Tournament.
“In the beginning of the season, we planned on making history by being the third (GW) team in a row to make the NCAA tournament, and we did that,” Hollis said. “We won the A-10. We set goals and we accomplished those goals.”