PHILADELPHIA – It wasn’t a glamorous win Saturday night for the men’s basketball team. It wasn’t a perfect win, nor was it a sexy win. It wasn’t the kind of win that will let men’s basketball head coach Karl Hobbs rest easy over the next few days.
What GW’s 82-80 win Saturday night on the road against La Salle was was a tough, down-to-the-wire victory against a team the Colonials (14-12, 7-5 Atlantic 10) beat for their first A-10 victory earlier this season in a gym where, last year, GW suffered one of its most heartbreaking defeats.
It was a win that vaulted GW into a tie with Rhode Island for fifth place in the conference standings, and it was a win that left Hobbs hoarse in the post-game press conference just minutes after watching La Salle big man Aaric Murray’s potential game-tying jumper bounce off the rim as time expired.
“My wife wanted the doctors at GW to check my blood pressure at halftime,” Hobbs joked after the game. “It’s not good, trust me.”
The Colonials jumped out to a 59-41 lead out of halftime on the strength of a 16-3 run. The Explorers responded with an 8-0 run of their own to climb back into the game, but La Salle didn’t really begin to threaten until later in the game, chipping away at GW’s double-digit lead starting at around the 8-minute mark.
Taking advantage of a combination of free throws, three-pointers and Colonial turnovers, the Explorers managed to shrink GW’s lead to as few as one with 26 seconds left, but found themselves unable to net the go-ahead basket. Junior guard Tony Taylor, who tied for the team lead with 17 points Saturday night, left the door open for a La Salle victory by missing a pair of free throws with 6 seconds left that could have put the game away for GW, but once Murray’s baseline jumper clanked off the far side of the rim and out, Taylor was vindicated and GW escaped with its third win in its last four games.
Even after seeing his top scorer miss the late free throws, Hobbs was quick to give credit for the victory to Taylor, who was on the floor for all but 2 minutes of Saturday’s win. The GW head coach chalked up the Explorers’ late rally at least partially to fatigue on Taylor’s part, and added that without the buffer the Colonials had built early in the second half, Saturday’s game likely would have had a different result.
“I think that because we got an 18-point lead in the second, I feel like that was the only difference,” Hobbs said. “If it had been a 16-point lead, I’m not so sure we would have won the game.”
While Hobbs got to breathe a sigh of relief at the podium after the game, La Salle head coach John Giannini expressed disappointment in his team’s inability to stop some of GW’s go-to scoring plays.
“They run a play called ‘wheel’ that we totally knew what they were doing and we practiced it and drilled on it. It’s a fundamental thing, and they get two layups off of that in the first half,” Giannini said. “It’s extremely hard to lose that game and to play the way we’ve been playing.”
Joining Taylor at the top of the stat sheet for the Colonials was freshman forward Nemanja Mikic, who scored 15 of his 17 points from behind the three-point line. Sophomore forward Dwayne Smith had 14 points in the GW win, while sophomore forward David Pellom tied his career high with 13 rebounds.
Saturday’s victory was GW’s seventh A-10 win of the season, surpassing its conference win total from last season. Sitting in the top half of the conference standings late in the season for the first time since 2006-2007, the Colonials are in a position to potentially host a first-round game in the A-10 Tournament at the Smith Center as long as they can finish eighth or better in the conference standings at the end of the season.
“This time of year you have to will yourself to win,” Hobbs said. “At the end of the day, we got the stops that we needed down the stretch, we got the key rebounds that we needed and we made all the big free throws down the stretch, with the exception of the last two at the end. [Taylor] played so many minutes and he was totally exhausted, and if he weren’t exhausted the game would’ve never come down to what it came down to.”
Next up for the Colonials is the second of their two games this season against Charlotte, a team GW beat on the road 73-67 Feb. 5. Tip-off at the Smith Center for that game is set for 7 p.m.