The stage was set Saturday afternoon for the men’s basketball team to make a statement. The Colonials were on a roll, having won three-straight and four of their last five games and jumping to fifth place in the Atlantic 10 standings.
With No. 24/24 Temple (AP/ESPN, USA Today) in town to face the Colonials, GW was looking for a win over one of the best squads the conference has to offer in front of one of the biggest, and loudest, crowds at the Smith Center this season.
And for 10 minutes Saturday, the Colonials looked like they were indeed poised to earn the signature win that would come with beating a nationally ranked team. For 10 minutes, GW was the aggressor, riding the crowd’s energy to an early 12-point lead and harassing the Owls on defense into one bad shot after another.
But for the game’s final 30 minutes, it was Temple, not GW, that made the statement. What had worked early on for the Colonials stopped working and the Owls, who had been on their heels from the opening tip, simultaneously locked down on defense and began to methodically develop an offensive rhythm.
The end result was a 57-41 loss for the Colonials (15-13, 8-6 A-10) in which GW shot just 30.5 percent from the floor and 36.4 percent from the free-throw line. The Owls limited GW to just 15 second-half points, the fewest points GW has scored in a half of basketball this season.
“It’s another learning experience for us,” men’s basketball head coach Karl Hobbs said. “This is the best team that we’ve played all year and we were able to for the most part be in the game. Once again, we just didn’t take care of some things from an offensive standpoint, but they’re very, very good defensively.”
A big part of Temple’s success on defense came from the Owls’ ability to shut down Colonials leading scorer Tony Taylor. Temple limited the junior guard to just five points on 2-12 shooting, his worst offensive performance of the season.
“Well anytime Tony has a 2-12 shooting night, chances are we’re probably gonna lose the game. If you look at stats, anytime he’s had a 2-12 or a game like that, it doesn’t make a difference who the opponent was, we pretty much have come out on the losing end,” Hobbs said. “It’s important for us to have him score and shoot a lot better. I know it’s a lot of pressure on him, but he’s handled it all year, and he’s entitled to have a game like this from time to time.”
Just two Colonials, sophomore Dwayne Smith and junior Aaron Ware, scored more than 10 points Saturday afternoon, but the bulk of those points came in the first half. Smith had eight of his team-high 12 points before halftime and Ware scored nine of his 11 points in the first, leaving GW with perilously few scoring options as Temple tightened up its defense in the second half.
While GW struggled to find players to step up, the Owls leaned on their star, senior forward Lavoy Allen for 19 points and 16 rebounds Saturday. Owl sophomore Wyatt Khalif added 14 points of his own, the final three of which came in spectacular fashion with Khalif draining a three from the corner after catching a behind-the-back pass from Temple point guard Juan Fernandez.
Ware credited Temple’s ability to control and slow down the pace of Saturday’s game as a key to the Owls’ defensive dominance. GW, a squad that typically likes to play a faster, more up-and-down type of game, was time and time again forced into longer possessions in front of a Smith Center crowd that included D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer.
“We wanted to play very fast, a little helter-skelter, and we got off to a great start,” Ware said. “I think what slowed us down was, you know, we missed shots and you know when you miss shots that kind of slows down the tempo of a game.”
Lost amid the disappointment Saturday was a milestone for freshman forward Nemanja Mikic, who hit his 73rd three-pointer of the season against Temple, tying the single-season record for three-point baskets made by a GW freshman. Despite the accomplishment, Mikic was a non-factor against the Owls Saturday with just three points.
With the loss, the Colonials dropped to sixth place in the A-10 standings, one game back of Duquesne and Rhode Island, which are tied for fourth place at 9-7 in the conference. GW will try to climb back into a tie with Rhode Island Wednesday night when the Colonials travel to Kingston, R.I., for their final road game of the year. GW remains in a strong position to play a home game in the first round of the A-10 tournament, and even after the loss Saturday, a bye into the second round of the conference tournament is still a possibility for the Colonials.
“I don’t think it’s gonna slow us down at all. I think at this point with two games left we’re just gonna fight for position to get a good seed,” Ware said of the loss. “At worst, our goal is to get a home game for that first round, but hopefully we can still get a top-four seed and get that bye, but our main focus right now is going into Wednesday and beating Rhode Island at Rhode Island.”