Sunday, March 2, 12:20 a.m.
CINCINNATI, March 1 — The last time the GW men’s basketball team and Xavier played, Jan. 19 at Smith Center, it was a tightly contested match-up that came down to the final minute of the game, with the Musketeers winning 74-66. Xavier was ranked 20th in both polls that time.
Things would not be much different during the rematch a month and a half later, this one here at Cintas Center. The game was again tight down the stretch and the No. 9/10 (AP, ESPN/USA Today) Musketeers once again came out on top, 66-56.
But despite the loss, the Colonials (9-15, 5-9 Atlantic 10) may not go home that disappointed. After trailing by as much as 18 points in the first half, they did not pack it in. The fact that GW continued to fight through the deficit shows how much this team has improved over the past three weeks, when the squad has won four of five games.
“I’m very happy,” coach Karl Hobbs said. “(GW) played with a great deal of energy. I thought we did a terrific job going after the offensive rebounds. We were aggressive. I felt that we just couldn’t stop them from the inside. Physically they got the ball inside and they were able to convert.”
The final deficit, 10 points, does not accurately describe the game’s competitive nature. As is the case in a lot of contests that come down to the final minutes, the winning team hit some key free throws late despite shooting 55 percent from the charity stripe for the game and the Colonials just seemed to run out of steam.
“That score was not indicative how close the game was,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said. “We were very fortunate to win.”
As GW has been doing the entire season, the Musketeers (25-4, 13-1 A-10) also played most of the game without its starting point guard. Senior Drew Lavender was on the court for 16 minutes because of both an ankle injury and illness. Lavender had no points and did not look comfortable controlling the offense even when he was playing.
But Xavier senior Stanley Burrell, who had 11 points, said the team is not going to use Lavender’s absence as an excuse.
“I have to give them a lot of credit,” said Burrell, who also admitted that he did not envision the contest being so hard-fought. “(Hobbs) really had them ready to play. They really came out and battled with us. No excuses about Drew.”
Hobbs also acknowledged Lavender’s importance to his team.
“When Lavender is not on the floor, they aren’t as good,” he said. “But the other guys stepped up. They made plays when they needed to.”
Senior Rob Diggs led GW with 19 points while sophomore Johnny Lee doubled his previous career high with 14 points. They were the only two GW players in double digits.
The Colonials are still tied for 13th in the conference, with Fordham. The Rams lost to Dayton Saturday evening but own the tiebreaker over the Colonials. GW has two games left on its schedule, at Charlotte March 6 and against Massachusetts March 8. The Colonials need to win at least one of the two in order to quality for the A-10 tournament.