By the time junior guard Tony Taylor stepped to the foul line with 10 seconds left in the game Saturday, the fate of the men’s basketball team had been sealed. The dominoes around the Atlantic 10 had fallen and regardless of whether or not the Colonials won or lost, they would be the fifth seed in the conference tournament and would face Saint Joseph’s Tuesday in the tournament’s first round. By virtue of Rhode Island’s loss Saturday, GW’s postseason schedule was already set, only Taylor didn’t know it.
All Taylor knew was that after leading by seven with 3 minutes left, the Colonials had missed four crucial free throws and allowed the Flyers to go on a 9-2 run that tied the game at 58 with under 1 minute to play.
It was the kind of situation that, 2 months ago, might have forced the Colonials to crumble under the pressure of the moment, but Saturday afternoon against Dayton, Taylor stepped to the free-throw line and coolly drained both shots, tangible proof of the maturation process he and his teammates have gone through over the course of this season.
“I was really nervous,” Taylor admitted with a smile on his face after GW’s 60-58 win over the Flyers. “We got into a huddle and my teammates helped me out. They pushed me through it. They all just said, ‘Tone, you do this all the time. You make free throws,’ and so that just gave me the confidence to just step up, relax, and just shoot the shot.”
Senior center Jabari Edwards punctuated Taylor’s free throws with an exclamation point 10 seconds later, blocking Dayton senior Chris Wright’s attempt at a game-tying layup as time expired. It was a fitting end for Edwards who, after being honored in Saturday’s Senior Day festivities before the game, had five blocks and was a defensive force underneath the basket.
The fans, too, were a force to be reckoned with Saturday. While Dayton fans filled up significant portions of the upper sections of the Smith Center, the stadium’s student section, which at times this season has been less than half full, was filled nearly to capacity.
“I thought the students, the fans were just terrific. I mean this was as good of a game in terms of the students [as we’ve had this season], and then the players, I thought our guys really fed off of that. It gave them a tremendous amount of energy,” Hobbs said. “And how about the students getting on those officials? I mean, I loved that more than anything else.”
While the high-energy crowd ultimately wound up lifting the Colonials at points during Saturday’s game, early on Hobbs said he had to try to rein in his team’s emotions as it tried to settle into a rhythm against the Flyers.
“I thought we just needed to settle down. We kept telling the guys on every timeout, ‘Settle down, settle down. This game is 40 minutes, we’re gonna have to really grind this game out,'” Hobbs said. “It’s like we were trying to throw a knockout punch and try to end the game in like the first 10 minutes of the game.”
Taylor was the leading scorer Saturday for the Colonials with 17 points, but he had help from three other GW players who scored in double figures against the Flyers. Sophomore David Pellom posted 16 points and seven rebounds in the win, and sophomore Dwayne Smith scored 11. Junior Aaron Ware rounded out the top scorers for GW with 10 points.
The win gave the Colonials (17-13, 10-6 A-10) their 10th conference win, a milestone GW hasn’t reached since winning the conference tournament in 2006-2007. By finishing in fifth place in the A-10 standings, the Colonials also proved wrong the conference’s preseason coach’s poll, which predicted GW to finish 10th in the conference even before the team lost preseason all-conference third-team guard Lasan Kromah to a season-ending foot injury.
With Kromah out, the Colonials struggled early in the season to develop a new offensive identity without their top returning scorer from last season. GW stumbled through its non-conference schedule, losing to teams like Navy, Hampton and UNC-Wilmington and shooting worse than 40 percent from the floor in six of its first eight games.
GW began to find its stride once conference play began and opened its A-10 schedule 3-0 for the first time since the 2005-2006 season. Since then, the Colonials have quietly gained steam over the course of conference play and have won five of their last six games. With the team set to host a first-round game in the A-10 tournament for the first time in school history Tuesday night, the Colonials are undeniably hot and are playing, Hobbs said, with a chip on their shoulders.
“They haven’t gotten their just due and right now, they’re playing for a little respect as well, because when things were a little down, a lot of people had sort of given up on these guys, but the most important thing, they never gave up on each other, they never gave up on me as a basketball coach, I never gave up on them as players,” Hobbs said. “The beauty of this thing is that, we still have, hopefully, some more games to play, and this story hasn’t been finished yet. Hopefully we can write a great story with a beautiful ending.”
Next up for GW is a first-round A-10 tournament game Tuesday night against Saint Joseph’s. The game will be televised by CBS College Sports Network and will tip-off at 7 p.m.