As sophomore Kethan Savage approached the free-throw line to increase GW’s lead with 54 seconds left on the clock Tuesday, fellow sophomores Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino met at halfcourt and waved their arms to the crowd.
They wanted more of the kind of noise they’d heard all night, and a loud roar erupted from the sea of 4,874 standing fans.
Behind the performances of Larsen and Garino – who scored 22 and 25 points, respectively – the Colonials were able to pull off a surprising feat: their 76-66 victory over the VCU Rams.
Watching fans as they cheered and tried to rush the court after the win, the more surprising feat of Tuesday’s game may have been the image of a sold-out Smith Center. It was the first sellout of the season, and the first since the Colonials battled then-No. 14 Butler last year.
“It was one of the most incredible things,” Larsen said after the game. “I’ve never been in a gym that packed and that loud, so it was definitely one of the reasons I came here – to start a new franchise, you can say.”
Chants of “Halt the Havoc” and “Safety school” were led by the Colonial Army and as GW fought to hold onto its lead with four minutes left in the game, everyone was on their feet.
Tuesday’s game was obviously a big one, getting attention across campus and all over social media. But with a tough Atlantic 10 conference this season, that could see around four NCAA Tournament bids once again, isn’t every home game a big one?
Head coach Mike Lonergan has said that one of the first goals for the team this season was to win every home game, and if they did so, the rest of the team goals would fall into place. So far, GW is 9-0 at home, but things won’t be getting any easier.
A key rematch on Jan. 26 against La Salle – who beat GW in the A-10 opener – will be the next game at the Smith Center, with matches against No. 16 UMass, Saint Joseph’s and George Mason to come later this season.
GW struggled mightly to garner attendance overall last season, ranking second-to-last in the A-10 at 2,554 per game. The average home attendance has gone up slightly so far this year, at 2,726 per game, with loyal alumni and newfound District fans joining the now-free Colonial Army.
The athletic department has used a VCU-like full-court press to attract fans to games. They’ve expanded outreach to alumni, let recent graduates into games for free, made membership to the Colonial Army free, added a flashy court design and introduced new uniforms. It’s been a marketing effort aimed at increasing enthusiasm, spirit, ticket sales, fundraising and, ultimately, wins.
But will that be enough?
The answer isn’t easy, and will depend more on the performances of the players than the fans, but if fans need any sort of motivation, this may do it:
“It makes it a lot easier to win when you get those crowds,” Lonergan said.