There was a lot going on in Sunday’s men’s basketball game against Rhode Island: two overtimes, 141 shots, 183 points, 10 double-digit scorers, 12 ties, a dozen more lead changes, clutch free throws, timely three-pointers and countless opportunities to win. In the end these factors added up to a 94-89 score and, most importantly, GW’s ninth consecutive defeat.
“This really was a heart-breaking loss,” head coach Karl Hobbs said after the game, describing both teams as “desperate” for the win. “Coming up short a little bit today, this was a tough pill to swallow.”
Twice during the game – at the end of regulation and the first overtime – the Colonials (6-11, 0-5 Atlantic 10) held the ball with the score tied and clock winding down. With the possessions came the opportunity not only to win the game, but also to give the team’s players, coaches and fans affirmation that their crumbling season could begin to be salvaged.
The two possessions played out similarly, with the ball-handler – first senior Wynton Witherspoon, then junior Johnny Lee – letting seconds tick away as anticipation built for the ensuing attempt at a game-winning shot. But in both cases no such outcome came to fruition. Both Witherspoon and Lee dribbled inside the arc and opted for long jumpers that found only iron – no net, no basket, no game-winner.
The contest carried on to a second overtime period that initially saw neither team any more capable of putting their opponent away. When Lee connected from deep for three of his 11 points to put GW ahead by two, Rhode Island’s Kahiem Seawright responded immediately on the other end. When the Rams’ Delroy James broke a tie on a traditional three-point play, GW senior Noel Wilmore hit a three in the corner to knot it back up with 1:22 remaining.
But when James again put Rhode Island ahead with a basket, the Colonials could not score in response. The Rams held their lead for the remainder of the contest, GW’s last shot to tie being blocked as it left Wilmore’s hands with 11 seconds on the clock.
While GW’s points down the stretch often came via jump-shots or free throws earned on such attempts, Rhode Island seemed able to score at will inside. The Rams out-scored the Colonials 10-2 in the paint during the second overtime and 46-30 for the game, an advantage amplified by the absence of senior forward Rob Diggs.
“I think down the stretch they really, really got the ball inside,” Hobbs said of Rhode Island. “Their physical-ness, that’s where they had the advantage.”
Diggs matched Wilmore for the game high in points with 20, but played only 23 minutes after getting into foul trouble in the second half and eventually fouling out with five minutes remaining in regulation. The 6-foot-8 forward keyed a mid-second half run, hitting the third three-pointer of his college career, scoring on an alley-oop from Lee and disrupting a Rhode Island attempt to do the same on the defensive end.
As his play continued to surge, Diggs was called for his fifth and final foul – a charge while trying to get position on a defender – and earned applause for his stretch of dominance on his way to the bench.
With the team’s leading scorer relegated to the role of spectator and the recently red-hot Witherspoon struggling to find his shot, other Colonials stepped up to keep their team afloat. Wilmore and Lee each chipped in season-high scoring efforts and it was Lee, a 5-foot-8 walk-on, that paced the team in rebounds with seven. Freshman Aaron Ware played one of his biggest roles to date, seeing 36 minutes of action and scoring several of his 11 points at key moments in the game.
“To play that long of a stretch without Robert and still have an opportunity to win, I think it speaks volumes to how far we’ve come,” Hobbs said of his team’s balanced effort.
The Colonials are now 0-5 in conference play, with the last four losses coming by a total of 16 points. They will look to reverse their fortunes Wednesday night in Philadelphia as they visit La Salle. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.