RICHMOND, Va. – Karl Hobbs opened his post-game press conference Saturday with a straight face, a congratulations to the opposing victors and a simple statement: “Kevin Anderson is the best player in the world.”
That Hobbs felt the need to follow this with an explanation that he was joking was telling. Few might have blamed GW’s head coach for resorting to hyperbole to describe the junior guard’s performance down the stretch of No. 25 Richmond’s (AP) 74-70 win over the Colonials (14-11, 4-8 Atlantic 10).
In a game played with the consistency of a pendulum, Anderson was the Spiders’ primary source of momentum, acting as both scorer and facilitator during a second half in which he scored 17 of his 24 points and recorded five of his seven assists.
“The last eight minutes of the game, it was basically Anderson making plays,” Hobbs said. “It wasn’t them running their split cuts and their flair screens. We really took that away. It was basically Anderson taking command, taking control of the game, and he made plays.”
But GW was not without a counter-puncher. Freshman Lasan Kromah scored 19 of his career-best 25 points after halftime and grabbed seven of his team-best eight rebounds during the same period, at times dueling with Anderson for the upper hand down the stretch.
When Kromah hit a three-pointer to put the Colonials up by four inside the second half’s 14-minute mark, Anderson responded with consecutive layups to tie the game. When Anderson scored to put Richmond up three a few minutes later, Kromah grabbed an offensive rebound and scored to cut GW’s deficit to one. And when Anderson hit a jumper to give the Spiders a lead with a little more than three minutes left in the game, Kromah knocked down a three on the other end to put the Colonials up by two.
“The thing I liked more than anything else: [Kromah] was very poised, particularly for a young guy like that,” Hobbs said. “He took really good shots. He really had a good feel – when to drive and when to pull up.”
With 1:21 left and the score tied, however, Anderson provided what proved to be the decisive blow, connecting on a jump shot to put his team up by two. A miss and a turnover later – with a key charge drawn by freshman Tim Johnson in between – GW was forced to start fouling.
Anderson hit a pair of free throws and sophomore Tony Taylor answered with a jumper, but Anderson found teammate Kevin Smith for a quick dunk to put GW down four. By the time Taylor and Kromah each missed threes in the game’s waning seconds, time had run out on the Colonials’ upset bid.
Such an opportunity did not seem likely for GW in the earliest stages of the game. The Spiders, fresh off earning their first national ranking in 24 years and playing in front of their largest home crowd since hosting an NIT game in 2002, wasted little time seizing control and jumped out to a 13-4 lead after the game’s first six-plus minutes.
“We told them in the first three minutes, [Richmond is] probably gonna make every single shot,” Hobbs said. “So we gotta withstand that first three minutes and once the game settled down, we should be okay.”
After calling a timeout to talk things over, Hobbs and his staff’s words proved true as GW responded with an identical run of its own to tie the game at 17. The Colonials began carrying out an aggressive game plan aimed at luring the Spiders into foul trouble by attacking the basket and creating opportunities in one-on-one situations. Of GW’s 11 first-half baskets, only two featured an assist.
Though there would be more assisted scoring in the second half – Taylor recorded six of his team-high seven assists after halftime – it was largely the same game plan that allowed the Colonials to stick with the Spiders through 10 tie scores and 15 lead changes before ultimately succumbing to their hosts.
“We felt that we were gonna be able to handle their match-up zone and we were gonna be able to score in the half-court, which we were able to do, so we’re very pleased about that,” Hobbs said. “But at the end of the day, Anderson was just too good.”
The loss kept the Colonials in ninth place in the 14-team A-10 and locked in a pack of five teams within a game and a half of one another that currently occupies the conference’s ninth through 13th slots. Twelve teams reach the A-10 postseason, something GW has failed to do the past two seasons.
Hobbs said ending that drought will be his team’s priority over its final four games.
“We have to re-focus, we gotta continue to come to practice and play with a great deal of energy, and we owe it to ourselves to extend our season,” Hobbs said. “And that’s our focus.”
The Colonials will return home for three straight games, beginning with Wednesday’s game against La Salle. Opening tip-off is set for 7 p.m.