Colonials keep it close, fall short of upsetting Xavier

GW head men’s basketball coach Karl Hobbs was in a time machine of sorts Saturday night. As he looked out onto Smith Center’s court and saw then-No. 20 Xavier’s maturity trump the Colonials’ youth in the 74-66 win, he seemed resigned.

During a year when the losses have racked up a lot quicker than the wins, Hobbs was reminded of the past when his team’s maturity would often leave opponents flat on their backs. But Saturday night, he complimented the Musketeers’ confidence and poise down the stretch, saying they made all the big plays when it was necessary. Hobbs was, for once, on the other side of the coin.

“I used to know what that feels like,” Hobbs said, chuckling.

The loss is GW’s first at Smith Center since Feb. 10, 2006, also to Xavier.

The seventh-year coach often tells reporters and fans that he has a young team and growth will come gradually. The Colonials are relatively inexperienced, returning only one consistent starter from a year ago and none from the team that went 27-3 in 2005-2006.

Xavier, now one of the toasts of the Atlantic 10 the way GW was two seasons ago, may have reminded Hobbs of his past glories. The Musketeers started a senior backcourt in Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell, and brought in senior Josh Duncan off the bench. Lavender and Duncan led Xavier’s scoring, with 14 points each.

Unlike the meeting between the two teams almost a year ago in Foggy Bottom, when the Musketeers ran away with a 29-point victory in the second half (the last time GW lost in Smith Center before Saturday), the Colonials (5-8, 1-2 A-10) kept it close until the end. With 37 seconds remaining and GW trailing by three, sophomore Damian Hollis stepped out of bounds. On the following play, Lavender was fouled and hit both free throws, essentially putting the game out of GW’s reach.

Minutes earlier, GW successfully attempted to take control of the momentum. Four players – senior Maureece Rice (22 points), junior Wynton Witherspoon (15 points), sophomore Damian Hollis (12 points, 12 rebounds) and junior Cheyenne Moore – hit a combined five three-pointers in the final eight minutes. But Xavier (15-4, 3-1 A-10) always seemed to have an answer, taming a frenzied crowd of 4,289.

“The make-up of our team, the senior backcourt, with a point guard like Lavender, it should be difficult to unravel us,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “We were much more composed, much more electric. The credit really goes to (the seniors).”

Miller said he respects GW’s program, especially the way they headlined the A-10 the past few seasons.

“When I think of GW, back to back to back NCAA tournaments, that’s so impressive,” he said. “During a couple years when our conference wasn’t as good, they carried us, they were the flagship of the conference.”

This season, the Colonials are at the bottom of the A-10, a long way from the past. Hobbs said his team needs to put out the kind of effort they showed against the Musketeers in future games, especially on the road, where GW is winless in six attempts. The next stop is at Rhode Island Jan. 26.

“With this team, it’s about the effort, that we grow and get better,” Hobbs said. “If we continue to grow, continue to get better, we’ll win enough games.”

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