This has been the year of the phrase, “First time since…”.
The team’s media notes were in constant flux as the Colonials broke through years of futility. First win against a ranked opponent since 2005. First time the Smith Center was sold out multiple times since 2006. First NCAA Tournament bid since 2007.
With a lull in action before GW makes their return to the tournament, it is a good time to reflect on the most memorable moments in the most memorable season of the last seven years.
During his first two years in Foggy Bottom, head coach Mike Lonergan’s squad went home right after the start of the Atlantic 10 Tournament. The first year ended in 10 wins and the second in just 13, as a cloud of irrelevance hung over the Smith Center.
I’m not trying to rub salt in the wounds of painful seasons past, remembered for several close-but-no-cigar losses, but instead show how remarkable and unexpected this season’s 24 wins have been. The turnaround has been well-documented: The team has risen from being picked 10th in the conference to finishing third, lifted by a key transfer, upstart sophomores and a animated head coach.
After an overtime win against last year’s Atlantic Coast Conference champion Miami in November, fans got a jolt from a win over then No. 20-ranked Creighton three days after Thanksgiving. The last time GW defeated a ranked opponent was 2005 (when I was 13 years old).
Matched against the Bluejays’ Doug McDermott, whom ESPN commentators fawned over as a potential National Player of the Year, not many gave Lonergan’s boys much of a chance.
Of course, just as no one predicted, senior forward Isaiah Armwood shut down the Sports Illustrated cover boy for one of the lowest-scoring nights of his career: seven points.
As excited as alumni and students were after the big win, Foggy Bottom still did not come down with basketball fever. The vigor caught on once conference rival VCU and its busloads of Rams fans rolled up I-95 on Jan. 14.
The Colonials’ 10-point victory over VCU gave the 4,874 fans crammed into the Smith Center the sense that GW wasn’t running on a string of luck. They were simply a good team ready to do something special.
Foggy Bottom had caught the basketball bug.
The Colonials’ romp through the conference was nearly halted by an injury to sophomore guard Kethan Savage. Four days after his thunderous one-handed slam shut the door on VCU, Savage was sidelined by a broken foot at St. Bonaventure. With an already limited bench, GW could have seen its good fortunes sour.
A rollercoaster followed. The Colonials went 6-4 over their next 10 games, leading up to a Senior Night date with Saint Joseph’s. With 10 minutes left, GW trailed by eight, and a bid to the big dance was in jeopardy. The Colonials came back, eventually pulling out the five-point win that cemented the Colonials’ return to basketball relevancy and the NCAA Tournament.
Even though GW was a “lock” for March Madness, the program was still without an A-10 Tournament win since 2007.
The Colonials out-muscled the Minutemen inside, but the story of the GW victory was the return of Nemanja Mikic’s shot. In his final A-10 Tournament, the senior scored 14 points in 12 minutes – a sentimental moment that reminded fans how dangerous GW can be if it adds bench depth.
But this year has been about more than just sentimental moments. It’s been about quality play and a campus realizing a sense of community can be built around athletics.
The moment of the season may still be yet to come.
Against Memphis on Friday night, the Colonials have the chance to add another “since then:” their first NCAA Tournament win since 2006.
Ben Krimmel, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.