OLEAN, N.Y. — After a 25-point loss at Saint Louis Feb. 13 that kept the GW men’s basketball team winless on the road in 10 tries, coach Karl Hobbs refused to look at his team’s next contest, at St. Bonaventure, as anything more than just another game. He said he did not understand why people believed the match-up, which pitted the Atlantic 10’s two worst squads against each other, represented something bigger.
But after his team’s 80-71 win Saturday night at Reilly Center, Hobbs felt a bit differently.
“For us, it feels like the (weights) have been lifted off our chests for a minute,” he said. “We put together 40 minutes of basketball..We didn’t lose our focus. We were very disciplined.”
As the season has progressed, much of the attention surrounding the Colonials (7-14, 3-8 A-10) has been on its road woes. It seemed as if the question had become if, not when, a victory would come away from Smith Center. GW finally found that elusive win, much to the relief of senior Maureece Rice.
“It means a lot because we hadn’t won a game until tonight on the road,” the guard said. “We’re happy as a team, and for the coaching staff, to get a road win tonight.”
Rice, who finished with 17 points on 4-of-8 shooting, had not scored more than two points in any game since a Feb. 3 loss at Temple and had been held scoreless against La Salle and Dayton. Against St. Bonaventure (7-17, 1-9 A-10), he found his shot and helped quiet the crowd of 5,123 when the game was tight. The Bonnies had come back after trailing by as many as 19 in the second half to cut GW’s lead to five with less than a minute remaining. But Rice, after being fouled, calmly stepped to the charity stripe and swooshed both of his free throws.
“I just told him to trust his instincts,” Hobbs said. “I told him, ‘You’ve been a terrific basketball player. Now you’re thinking about shots. Do what you normally do. Don’t try to put too much pressure on yourself.'”
Shooting, one of the Colonials’ downfalls this season, was what pulled them through against the Bonnies. GW shot 54.5 percent from the floor, its highest shooting percentage of the season.
Rice got help from sophomore Damian Hollis, who also had 17 points, and junior Noel Wilmore, perhaps the team’s purest shooter, who had 16 points on five three-pointers. Wilmore has shown signs of brilliance from behind the arc in past games, including an 18-point performance in the loss against the Owls, but has not consistently found his shot. Saturday night, Wilmore looked like he belonged on the court.
But even as GW lets out its breath for “escaping the record books,” as Hobbs put it, the season is far from salvaged. The Colonials still sit three games behind the cut for the conference tournament, one win and two losses behind Fordham, the team closest to the Colonials in the standings. GW has five games left in the regular season, three at home (Saint Louis, Richmond, Massachusetts) and two on the road (Xavier and Charlotte). Four of the league’s top six teams are in that group.