In one weekend, George Washington established itself as a national contender, beating two top 15 teams, both of which have won a national title the past five years. But the celebration was reserved; Coach Karl Hobbs has engrained in his team that the season's true accomplishment won't come for three months, when George Washington hopes to be invited to its first NCAA tournament this decade.
Yesterday's 101-92 victory over Maryland in the championship game of the BB&T Classic marked one "step further toward our dream," Hobbs said. It was a significant victory nonetheless, one that likely will propel George Washington (5-1) into the Associated Press top 25, released today, for the first time since February 1998.
GW's Omar Williams drives past Terps' Travis Garrison. Williams scored 14, one of five Colonials in double digits.
(Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
The Colonials used their athleticism to beat No. 11 Michigan State, Saturday's opponent, and No. 12 Maryland, two teams from more talent-rich conferences. The two-day performance left little doubt in the minds of Maryland players, particularly guard Chris McCray, that GW is an NCAA tournament team and a new player on the local basketball scene.
"They're just GW," McCray said. "They don't get much national attention. I guess they are the third team around here behind Georgetown and Maryland. But they are a very good team. These were really big wins for them."
A boisterous crowd of 13,343 at MCI Center enjoyed an end-to-end game yesterday that was as frenetic as it was entertaining. Eleven players scored in double figures in the highest-scoring game in the 10-year history of the event.
GW guard T.J. Thompson scored a game-high 27 points and earned tournament MVP honors. Other members of the all-tournament team were Maryland's Nik Caner-Medley and John Gilchrist, GW's J.R. Pinnock and Michigan State's Maurice Ager.
Hobbs was concerned with how his ballhandlers would deal with a Maryland team that he felt was probably the best in the country at stealing the ball and getting transition baskets. GW, especially Thompson, Carl Elliott and Omar Williams, was successful in negotiating Maryland's defense in the second half, when it turned the ball over only five times.
In the first half, the Colonials made 58.8 percent of their shots. "We didn't play hard enough in the first half," said Coach Gary Williams, whose Maryland team surrendered 100 points for the first time since 2000.
While George Washington shot well from three-point range, making 10 of 14 attempts, Maryland struggled, sinking only 6 of 23 shots. The Terrapins (4-2) also struggled from the free-throw line, where they made 14 of 28 shots.
Maryland freshman James Gist, who made 6 of 7 shots and scored 12 points, provided strong interior play when starting center Ekene Ibekwe got into foul trouble. But once Maryland rallied to tie the game at 63 with 12 minutes remaining, GW made an 11-2 run to regain control.
Gilchrist, after sitting extended minutes early in the second half, reentered and played the remaining 10 minutes with ferocity. At times he was effective, scoring 13 of his team-high 23 points in the game's final 9 minutes 5 seconds. In other moments, he walked an emotional tightrope, pumping his fist after big plays and imploring teammates to rally from a nine-point second-half deficit.
In the game's waning moments, Pinnock, who has known Gilchrist since his high school days in Virginia Beach, Va., took Gilchrist's hand after hearing "some things [Gilchrist] said to his teammates."
"He plays with so much emotion, sometimes he can get carried away," said Pinnock, who added 22 points. "I just told him that he's better than that; he's an all-American and has to perform like that at all times."
Gilchrist said he hardly remembered the on-court conversation, adding: "A lot of times when you are playing to win, you do things and don't even think about it. When the game gets close, I just blank out and play hard. I don't know any other way to play."
With losses to GW and Wisconsin this week, Maryland likely will drop in the rankings, while the Colonials should make their first appearance this decade.
"The thing about it at this time of the year, all the rankings are predictions. Nobody has earned their ranking yet," Caner-Medley said. "I think George Washington earned their ranking this weekend. They proved that they are a good team, regardless of what league they are in."