Moving up from 10th to ninth place may seem trivial from the outside, but the games that decide who sits in front of whom in the conference standings are often some of the most hard-fought in a season, and GW’s Wednesday night win over Massachusetts was no exception.
In a game where the Colonials could leapfrog UMass for ninth place in the Atlantic 10 and climb another spot to eighth with a Duquesne loss, the Colonials appeared focused on improving their odds of making their first appearance in the A-10 tournament since 2007.
With that intensity came copious amounts of fouling and chippy play from both squads. Just minutes into the second half, Minutemen forward Javorn Farrell was ejected from the game for throwing a punch while tangled up with GW senior Damian Hollis as the two struggled for a rebound.
Even the two coaches got involved, with GW head coach Karl Hobbs and UMass head coach Derek Kellogg exchanging some heated words as officials looked at replays of Farrell’s punch. Following the ejection, the referees began to call the game tighter, whistling the two teams for a combined 33 fouls in the second half alone.
“I think both teams knew we were in a desperate position,” said Hollis, who fouled out with 5:48 left in the game. “We came out and we were aggressive, and in return the refs had to call it, I guess, tight because we were going so aggressive at each other.”
Even with the high number of second-half fouls, Hobbs pinned the blame for whistles not on the officiating crew but on the overall tenacity of the game.
“I just thought as the game progressed it was just more aggressive, and everybody was playing a lot harder, and both teams were attacking the basket,” Hobbs said. “I just thought both teams were just playing very aggressive basketball and I thought the game was officiated very, very well.”
As GW moves toward the end of the season, conference wins will take on an added value as the Colonials jockey for standing within the A-10. With just five games remaining in the regular season, GW now finds itself in position not just to play in the conference tournament for the first time in three years, but to potentially play a home game in the tournament as host of a first-round match-up, if they can secure one of the top eight seeds.
With so much riding on the team’s last few games, Hobbs said he has tried to keep his team focused on basketball and not on playoff scenarios.
“We didn’t really talk about that,” Hobbs said of the playoff implications. “We feel that if we play GW basketball, play fundamentally sound, make great decisions, we’re gonna win our share of games. Obviously we’re paying attention to the standings. We’re very much aware of the standings and where we are.”
Ultimately, Hobbs said that while the possibility of moving up a spot or two in the conference standings was a nice motivator, it was the teams, not the situation, that made the game especially hotly contested.
“Yeah I think that had something to do with it, but I think that it was going to be that kind of game anyway,” Hobbs said of Wednesday’s contest. “It was two young teams, basically, that play with a lot of energy. We knew going in it was going to be a tough game.”