Junior guard Tony Taylor couldn’t watch as Saint Joseph’s guard Carl Jones stepped to the free-throw line with 31 seconds left Tuesday night. Taylor, who had put the men’s basketball team on his back so many times this season, dropped into a crouch, looked up at the clock one more time and buried his head in his hands in disbelief that after 45 minutes of basketball, the Colonials’ run in the Atlantic 10 Tournament was ending like this.
Just five minutes earlier, it had been the Hawks shaking their heads, wondering what had happened. Saint Joseph’s, the tournament’s 12th seed, a team with three conference wins this season, had dominated the game. The Hawks had shot 52 percent in the first half and led by as many as 14 points with 11:19 to go in the game. The Colonials were on their heels and Saint Joseph’s was in control, rendering silent the sizeable student section in the Smith Center for the first ever A-10 tournament game in Foggy Bottom.
But after stumbling through the first 30 minutes, the final 10 belonged to the Colonials, who fought their way back into the game with an electrifying 20-6 run that tied the game at 49 with just under a minute left. It was Taylor, who scored 19 of his 22 points after halftime, who hit the pair of free throws to cap the run for GW and it was Taylor who the Colonials looked to once again with the game on the line for one last basket to send his team to Atlantic City, N.J., for the first time since 2006-2007.
But Taylor’s last-second jumper was off target, as was the tip-in effort from senior center Jabari Edwards, and the Colonials were forced to go into overtime, where their momentum, and potentially their season, came to an end.
“I thought the entire team was a little fatigued at that point,” head coach Karl Hobbs said. “We exerted so much energy and we put the ball in Tony’s hands and he did a terrific job to put us in position to win the game.”
It was a disastrous overtime for the Colonials, who allowed Saint Joseph’s to go on a 12-0 run to open the extra period, burying GW and cementing what would become a 71-59 victory by connecting on 18 of 20 free throws down the stretch. In the end, Hobbs said, his team had just enough gas in the tank for 40 minutes and after such a furious comeback, the Colonials (17-14) had nothing left for the overtime.
It was a devastating loss for Taylor, who spoke slowly and sighed deeply throughout the post-game press conference. His emotion was a combination of personal frustration and disappointment that Edwards and his fellow big man, senior center Joseph Katuka, finished their GW careers without making a single trip to Atlantic City for an A-10 tournament game.
“The whole team is very disappointed in not coming up with the win,” Taylor said. “We really worked hard this whole season to put ourselves in this position and to also advance. We’re just really sad we couldn’t get our seniors to Atlantic City.”
The Hawks, for their part, executed head coach Phil Martelli’s game plan to perfection Tuesday night, slowing the tempo and forcing the Colonials to defend longer possessions that ate up the bulk of the shot clock. Those extra seconds spent defending turned out to be the difference down the stretch for GW both physically and mentally.
“I think when you play the way we play, trapping, it gets you tired but this is what we do,” Taylor said. “Them running out the shot clock until, I’d say five seconds left, and then if we don’t come up with that rebound when they miss, that’s just a real big letdown.”
Lost amid the disappointment from the loss Tuesday was Nemanja Mikic’s first-half three-pointer, his 74th of the season, which set a new GW freshman record for threes made in a season. After breaking the record, which was previously held by SirValiant Brown – who hit 73 threes during his freshman campaign in 1999-2000 – Mikic went on to hit one more three to set the new mark at 75. That was cold comfort though for a GW team that had steamrolled its way through the end of A-10 play before being stopped in its tracks by the Hawks.
The loss, Hobbs said, will be a learning experience for the Colonials, who return all but Edwards and Katuka from this year’s team and will also get back preseason All-Atlantic 10 third team guard Lasan Kromah. GW will also feature the highest-rated recruiting class of Hobbs’ tenure in Foggy Bottom, a group that features center Erik Copes, rated by ESPNU as the sixth-best center in his recruiting class.
But after falling to Saint Joseph’s, next season seemed like a faint light at the end of a long tunnel for the Colonials who will be back next year. They’ll have eight months to try to put the loss behind them, but Hobbs said he hoped his players would remember how they felt Tuesday night for a long time, if only to make sure they never feel that way again.
“Coach told us to remember this,” junior guard Aaron Ware said. “We’re gonna remember this and we’re gonna work hard this off-season. We won’t be in this spot. We’re gonna be in Atlantic City next year.” u