Thursday, March 6, 11:48 p.m.
CHARLOTTE, March 6 — The GW men’s basksetball team will return home to the nation’s capital Friday after falling 77-61 to Charlotte Thursday night. But when they get there, despite traveling roughly 400 miles north, Atlantic City, N.J., will seem farther away than they remember.
The loss sends GW (9-16, 5-10 Atlantic 10) back to 13th in the conference standings, just outside the cut for the A-10 tournament in New Jersey. The Colonials will not only need to defeat a talented Massachusetts team Saturday, but also hope that last-place St. Bonaventure upsets Fordham in the Bronx.
The 16-point defeat was not representative of difference the between the two teams for most of the game. The squads exchanged runs throughout much of the contest, often answering one another’s strings of big baskets with their own flurries of points.
Charlotte led by four at the half, increasing its lead to 12 near the middle of the second period. Then junior Noel Wilmore hit consecutive threes to spark a GW run that eventually cut the lead to two with less than six minutes to play. From there, however, the 49ers launched the game’s final run, outscoring the Colonials 22-8 down the stretch to run away with the win.
GW shot 34 percent from the floor, with leading scorer Rob Diggs experiencing uncharacteristic struggles in the paint en route to a 5-for-13 performance.
“That was the difference in the game,” head coach Karl Hobbs said of his team’s shooting woes. “I think in the first half we missed like five lay-ups, five easy inside shots that we didn’t finish off and as a result it allowed them to get back in the game.”
The two teams played very physically on both ends of the floor, drawing lots of contact and bumping into one another. Junior Wynton Witherspoon, who finished with 14 points, said his opponents’ demeanor was anticipated.
“It’s a physical team, a physical game,” Witherspoon said. “We caught a couple elbows, got pushed a couple times. We were looking for some calls.”
Witherspoon’s younger brother, Wesley, was in attendance behind GW’s bench. Wesley is a highly touted high school senior who is considering playing alongside his brother next fall. The elder Witherspoon said he was happy to see him but played with the same mindset as usual.
“I don’t play any different,” he said of games when his family, which resides in Georgia, attends. “I’m just happy to see them and happy they can make it.”
Freshman Xavier Alexander also had family ties to Thursday’s game, as his older brother De’Angelo was an all-conference wingman at Charlotte. Fans could be overheard remarking how similar he looked to his big brother, who graduated last spring. Xavier likely impressed the 5,452 in attendance at his first game in Halton Arena, leading all players with 14 rebounds.
“He’s been a good rebounder for us,” Hobbs said. “He’s been pretty consistent at sticking his nose in there and working hard.”
The Colonials were also playing their first game since senior Maureece Rice was dismissed from the program. Hobbs would not comment on why or when the decision was made, but downplayed its impact on the outcome in Charlotte.
“I don’t know if you guys have been watching the last few games,” Hobbs said, alluding to Rice’s pre-dismissal on-court struggles. “It didn’t affect us at all.”