It was not necessarily needed as extra motivation, sophomore Tony Taylor said, but perhaps it was fitting that GW’s 75-70 win over Charlotte Saturday night happened during a homecoming game in front of more than 50 alumni representing all 10 of the school’s past NCAA tournament appearances.
It was not a particularly dramatic victory, with the Colonials (16-11, 6-8 Atlantic 10) leading by nine at halftime and by as many as 18 in the second half before the 49ers closed with a burst of scoring to give the game its misleadingly close final score.
It was not a particularly stunning upset. GW entered the game momentarily in 10th place and Charlotte in fourth. The Colonials had nearly beaten their guests on the road three weeks prior and entered the game having won three of four contests. Oddsmakers even spotted the 49ers a few points.
But Saturday’s win might have been a step toward revisiting a successful past, not with championship banners and national rankings and ESPN buzz – at least not yet – but with smaller accomplishments. Such successes include the team’s first A-10 tournament berth since 2007; a winning record for the first time in that same span; and a potential bursting of the NCAA bubble for a team with postseason aspirations.
True, the first was clinched a game earlier, the second a logistical near-lock, and the third worth more in style than standing, but they are markers of progress not lost on head coach Karl Hobbs in a season he billed as part of a rebuilding process.
And while the achievement of these small objectives on the way to big-picture success is nice, sometimes the smallest of pictures can be just as pleasing.
“The nice part about tonight’s game,” Hobbs said, “is I don’t recall anybody just throwing the ball out of bounds tonight.” He then turned to his left and asked sophomore Aaron Ware if he had any such memories.
“I didn’t do it, Coach,” Ware answered, laughing. “I’m due for one a game, but I didn’t do it tonight.”
And that was not all Hobbs thought was nice. There was Taylor’s 16 points and turnover-less play at the point, which Hobbs more specifically said gave the Colonials stability. There was Ware’s 13 points and eight rebounds and strong defensive play, which Hobbs more specifically described as “fantastic.” And there was freshman Bryan Bynes’ 11 points – all of which came in the second half as he relieved a foul-plagued Taylor – which Hobbs more specifically said came on some “terrific, terrific finishes” in transition.
It also must have been nice not seeing Shamari Spears, Charlotte’s top scorer, torch GW for a career-high scoring night, as he did when he dropped 31 points on the Colonials in the teams’ last meeting. Hobbs said junior center Joseph Katuka attacked the basket against Spears in the paint to lure the 49ers forward into foul trouble.
Spears picked up his first foul less than 30 seconds into the game and a second two minutes later, relegating him to the bench for the rest of the first half to prevent further foul trouble.
“Last time we played them, we just couldn’t handle him,” Hobbs said. “He really hurt us, so we wanted to make sure to start the game, we wanted to go at him early… From that point on, we were able to dictate the pace of the game.”
By the time Spears was back on the floor after halftime, control was already firmly in GW’s hands. Spears finished with 12 points and five rebounds; Katuka had 10 points and five rebounds, while senior teammate Hermann Opoku added seven points and six boards.
The win puts GW in a three-way tie with Duquesne and St. Bonaventure for eighth place; those two teams meet in Olean, N.Y. Wednesday. Staying in eighth would give GW a home game in the first round of the conference tournament, while slipping a spot or two would send the team on the road for its first postseason game.
Either way, the Colonials will get an opportunity to extend their season as long as their play allows them.
“This team has been subject to – and they’ve paid the price for – what has happened the last two years, but they’ve handled it with great class, they’ve handled it with great character,” Hobbs said. “These guys deserve a lot of credit for how hard they’ve worked and for getting the program back to where it needs to be.”
GW hosts Saint Joseph’s Wednesday at 7 p.m. in its final home game of the regular season.