CINCINNATI – Nobody expected it to be a close game. Xavier, at home, was not supposed to be an opponent against which a struggling men’s basketball team would be able find its stride.
The Colonials headed to Cincinnati Wednesday against long odds, ready to take on a Xavier team that had gone 9-1 at the Cintas Center this season and was on a five-game winning streak. The Musketeers are an Atlantic 10 powerhouse, having earned trips to eight of the previous nine NCAA Tournaments.
GW, by contrast, came into the game riding a three-game losing streak that had stripped the Colonials of any momentum they’d gained from their 3-0 start to conference play. GW hadn’t beaten the Musketeers in any of the last five meetings and had lost 14 of the 16 meetings between the two teams.
Unconcerned with what the game was supposed to be, GW played one of its best games of the season Wednesday night against the Musketeers, shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 55.6 percent from behind the three-point line. The Colonials, who have struggled all season from the free throw line, shot 94.7 percent from the charity stripe.
Despite being one of GW’s strongest efforts of the season, the Colonials’ best proved to be not quite good enough against the Musketeers, who earned the 81-74 win after a back-and-forth game that featured 16 lead changes and 14 ties.
After struggling recently to score with any consistency, the Colonials (10-10, 3-10 A-10) matched Xavier nearly shot for shot, shooting 53.8 percent in the first half and putting up 40 points before halftime, the most points the Musketeers have allowed in a half of basketball this season.
“I think number one, we made some changes with some things we did offensively. We also kind of changed our practice schedule a little bit, getting guys early in the morning, getting some shooting in,” head coach Karl Hobbs said. “I think it was mainly we came into this game extremely focused. And we really stayed committed to our game plan.”
The second half once again proved to be the undoing of the Colonials, who shot almost 20 points worse in the second half than they did in the first. GW also struggled to keep tabs on Xavier’s top scorers, junior Tu Holloway and redshirt sophomore Mark Lyons, both of whom scored 22 points against the Colonials.
“What we wanted to try to do was limit the number of shots they try to get, which is extremely hard. I really thought those two guys played a terrific game,” Hobbs said. “The difficulty for us from a defensive standpoint, it’s very rare that you have to defend five guys. All those guys are very, very good offensive players.”
Beyond adjusting his team’s practice schedule, Hobbs also tinkered with his starting lineup, inserting junior forward Aaron Ware into the lineup in place of sophomore guard Bryan Bynes. The decision proved to be a good one by Hobbs: Ware’s 14 points against the Musketeers were the second most on the team, behind junior guard Tony Taylor’s 21-point performance.
“It wasn’t really an adjustment,” Ware said of Hobbs’ decision to start him. “Anything the team needs me to do, whether it’s start, come off the bench, I’m really willing to come into the game and do whatever it takes to win. It’s team first. It was nice to start, but at the end of the day, it’s about the team.”
The Colonials will return to Foggy Bottom confident, but still riding a losing streak that now sits at four games. GW will try to get back on the winning track Saturday against Saint Louis, with tip-off set for 2 p.m.
“It shows that we can play with anybody in the conference,” Ware said of the Colonials’ performance Wednesday night. “I think even with a losing effort, this was one of the best games we played all season, collectively.”