For the first 39 minutes of its game Wednesday night, the men’s basketball team and its opponent, Richmond, seemed perfectly matched. The two teams had matched each other shot for shot and run for run and had played almost an entire game of dead-even basketball, but over the final minute and 2 seconds of the game, the difference between the two teams couldn’t have been more clear.
When Richmond guard Francis-Cedric Martel stepped to the free throw line with 62 seconds left, his team was down one having just recovered from a GW rally that saw the Colonials grab the lead after being down by as many as six with 8:49 left to play.
Martel made only the first of his two free throws, but from that point forward, the Colonials fell apart, allowing Richmond to grab the offensive rebound off Martel’s miss and surrendering a low-post basket to senior Spider forward Justin Harper that put Richmond ahead by two.
Needing a basket on the next possession, junior guard Tony Taylor instead drove to the basket but lost his handle on the ball, which rolled out of bounds to Richmond.
GW fouled quickly on the next play and senior Spider guard Justin Smith made two free throws to put his team up by four with 22 seconds to play, but instead of rushing his team down for a quick basket, Taylor froze at the top of the key. By the time sophomore guard Bryan Bynes launched a three that missed wide of the basket, there were 3 seconds left in the game and the Colonials’ fate, a 69-65 loss, had been sealed.
“I just made a bad decision and I’m gonna learn from it and I’m gonna be in that situation again and it’s gonna be a better outcome,” Taylor said. “I think I was thinking too much in the late-game situation and I should have tried to get Nemanja [Mikic] the ball for an open look.”
The difference in the game’s final minutes was simple. While the Spiders leaned on experienced players like Harper, Smith and Martel down the stretch, the Colonials (12-12, 5-5 Atlantic 10) found themselves with only Taylor to turn to.
“We’re a team that, if it comes down the stretch, we’re gonna put the ball in Tony’s hands and let him make a play, either for himself or for a teammate,” Hobbs said. “We played them right down the stretch. I thought we had a chance to win the ball game, and unfortunately we just didn’t finish a couple of plays, didn’t get a key rebound off of a missed free throw. Those were big plays,” he added.
Even more disheartening for Hobbs was the fact that, outside of the game’s final minute, his team had, “played a fairly good game.” Taylor, who faltered down the stretch with the Richmond defense collapsing on him, scored 15 points and had five assists Wednesday night. Freshman Nemanja Mikic, who had been relatively dormant from behind the three-point line, exploded for 15 points and made five of his 11 three-point attempts. Sophomore guard Aaron Ware had 14 and senior center Joseph Katuka chipped in for 11, but even with four players in double figures, the Colonials found themselves just short of earning the victory.
For their part, the Spiders relied on Harper, who burned the Colonials for 20 points Wednesday night, as well as senior center Dan Geriot, who had 15, and Smith, who had 14. GW did find some success in neutralizing reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Kevin Anderson, limiting the senior guard to just nine points, but with such an array of weapons, losing Anderson didn’t seem to slow down the Spiders much.
“They got three guys. They got three seniors that are trying to have a special senior year,” Hobbs said. “I thought we did a good job on one of them.”
For Richmond head coach Chris Mooney, his team’s final-minute performance was a product of the years of experience his players have gained working together. Mooney said after 3 and 4 years together, close games don’t faze the Spiders’ veteran players.
“I think we have a certain amount of poise. I think probably most teams with as many seniors as we have would exhibit some poise,” Mooney said. “These guys have played in a lot of games and it’s hard to rattle them.”
The Colonials will look to get themselves back on track over the weekend with a road game against Massachusetts Sunday afternoon. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.