It’s a word that rings in your ears without bringing any comfort. You could almost see the Colonials thinking it as the final buzzer rang. Almost beat Temple, as Bryan Bynes dropped into a crouch. Almost had a statement win, as Lasan Kromah punched the air. Almost, finally, nabbed a game at the wire, as Patricio Garino stared on in disbelief from the bench.
The scoreboard read Temple 55, GW 53. The Colonials had almost done it – but with a sickening sense of deja-vu that seems to loom over the team, it had come down to a final possession. And the ball didn’t go in.
“It’s very frustrating. I thought we had a chance to have that lead late, and we just didn’t do a good job in ‘time-to-score’ situations,” head coach Mike Lonergan said.
The Colonials watched the game slip out of their hands over the final few minutes of play, tinged by questionable calls that left Lonergan screaming from the sidelines.
“I think our crowd, when they’re that loud, I thought there was a couple of times they were pushing off, the ball went out of bounds,” Lonergan said. “There was one obvious one across from our bench, it went out of bounds. Guy told me he didn’t see it, well, you’ve got to ask your partner. They’re a good crew, they’re very good referees, I just thought the calls didn’t go our way. There were a lot of them.”
What pushed the Colonials so close Wednesday night – indeed, what put them solidly in control of the game before the break – was their defense. GW set up in a man-to-man scheme with heavy pressure that seemed to mount as the game went on. Many times, Temple was forced to end possessions with desperation shots. A lid seemed to be on the basket as shot after shot clanged out.
The Owls closed the game shooting 40.8 percent, most of their baskets coming off re-energized play in the second half. In the first, Temple could only make seven baskets and entered the break down by 10. The second saw better shooting from the Owls, including potent forward Khalif Wyatt, who lit GW up for 18 after only scoring five in the first half.
“I told our guys, look at that stat sheet. The reason we’re in the game against a very good team with a very good coach and a chance to win is our defense,” Lonergan said. “We just have to figure out a way to score some more baskets.”
The Colonials’ shooting wasn’t lights-out, but they displayed key follow-through that gave them the edge at the end of the first 20 minutes of play. The players stuck with shots if they didn’t fall, grabbing a 10-6 advantage on the offensive boards and a 34-31 overall rebounding victory.
GW was paced by senior forward Isaiah Armwood, who shot 32 percent for the game and fell one rebound short of his sixth double-double of the season with 13 points and nine boards. Senior forward Dwayne Smith and senior guard Bryan Bynes each added nine points off the bench, Garino posted eight.
“We got outrebounded at Xavier in front of a sold out crowd,” Lonergan said. “The thing I like about our team, we always learn from our mistakes. I feel bad for the guys. I’m proud of their effort. But we need to get that win, something to show for it.”
It was a scoring drought that, in the end, was GW’s undoing. The Colonial tally didn’t change over the final seven minutes and 53 seconds of play. That stall, along with the team’s 63.2 percentage from the charity stripe, were missed opportunities Lonergan said GW could ill afford.
“They came out in the second half, they trapped us, we turned the ball over a couple of times,” Armwood said. “That’s really what got them going, got them on the fast break.”
His head coach agreed, adding that the setback rattled the team.
“I think we panicked. We had some veterans take some threes that – just hacked up some threes. We went away from getting the ball inside,” Lonergan said.
And slowly, over the second half, Temple came chugging back, first tying the game and then taking the lead with two minutes left off of a pair of free throws.
With 30 seconds left, Bynes had it. He dribbled for seven seconds, drove in and missed. Smith couldn’t put it back. And the buzzer sounded on another almost.
“We were down two, I was playing for overtime. I didn’t want to shoot a three. We’re not a great three-point shooting team,” Lonergan said. “We were really just trying to spread it and attack the rim. [Bynes] was having a good game, he’s by far the quickest player, we just didn’t execute.”