NASHVILLE, March 18 -- For a while Friday night, George Washington lived the dream of every No. 12 seed facing a supposedly superior opponent in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The Colonials traded runs and scraps underneath the basket with fifth-seeded Georgia Tech, but their first appearance in the tournament since 1999 came to an end because they were unable to make free throws while Georgia Tech came up with key plays when it needed them.
As a result, Georgia Tech got out of Gaylord Entertainment Center with an 80-68 victory and advanced to a second-round matchup against fourth-seeded Louisville in the Albuquerque Region. The Colonials will hit the offseason knowing they were tantalizingly close to doing the same.
George Washington (22-8) hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1994, but if Friday was any indication, Karl Hobbs's young team will have another opportunity starting next season and beyond.
Perhaps the Colonials, who played with only one senior Friday night, will learn from how Georgia Tech put together a 12-2 run to turn a 57-54 lead into a 69-56 advantage during the second half.
And Hobbs's players will reflect on how they made only 4 of 16 free throws while Georgia Tech made 17 of 22 from the line. George Washington was a 70 percent free throw shooting team coming into the tournament.
"The difference in the game tonight was we missed free throws at key times and it broke our momentum and then their guards were able to make key plays for them down the stretch," Hobbs said. "That's kind of what happened."
Four Colonials scored in double figures, led by junior forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who battled foul trouble but finished with 15 points and six rebounds. Junior forward Mike Hall added 13 points and nine rebounds and came up big by hitting 3 of 4 three-point attempts.
In his final college game, senior point guard T.J. Thompson scored eight points on 2-of-11 shooting. Georgia Tech was led by guard Jarrett Jack, who scored 20 points, and guard Will Bynum, who added 17.
"What stabilized the game for us was a our guard play," Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt said. "Will got on a roll, B.J. [Elder] got on a roll and Jarrett made some big plays for us and that allowed us to beat a very good team."
The Colonials trailed 57-54 when Thompson's pull-up three-pointer rattled in and out. On the other end, Elder and Bynum each hit tough pull-up jump shots and Jack made another, this one over the outstretched arms of J.R. Pinnock, to give the Yellow Jackets a 63-56 lead.
After George Washington's Carl Elliott wheeled into the lane and missed for the Colonials, Bynum raced down and a executed a pretty up-and-under move for a layup.
Maureece Rice missed an open three-point attempt for the Colonials and then was victimized by Elder on the other end when Elder posted him up and made a tough turnaround jump shot in the corner, giving Georgia Tech a 67-56 lead at the 7:26 mark. The Colonials never seriously threatened.
Mensah-Bonsu opened the game with a pair of powerful dunks, including one over the 7-foot-1 Luke Schenscher. When Thompson capped the third possession by swishing a three-pointer, the Colonials led 7-5 and appeared to be in the kind of groove Hobbs hoped to establish at the game's start.
Despite forcing Georgia Tech (20-11) into the penalty midway through the half, the Colonials failed to take advantage because they missed free throws. Elliott and Dokun Akingbade each missed the front ends of one-and-ones and Elliott stepped to the line with the Colonials trailing 32-26 and missed two.
The misses hurt even more because after facing slow-down tactics during Atlantic 10 play all season, the Colonials were finally facing an opponent that welcomed a fast, up-and-down kind of game.
Aside from those missed free throws, the Colonials were playing well. Mensah-Bonsu made all four of his field goal attempts in the half while Hall scored 10 first-half points and buried both of his three-point attempts.
Georgia Tech turned over the ball nine times during the half and because Mensah-Bonsu was able to draw two quick fouls on Schenscher, and the Colonials held an 18-8 first half advantage in points in the paint. Still, Georgia Tech went into halftime with a 40-35 lead.
"I'm proud of the way my team played tonight," Hobbs said. "We put ourselves in a great situation against a very good basketball team but we weren't able to hit shots at key times. Hopefully we learn from this experience and build on it for next year."