GW's Cup Runneth Over

Mike Hall
With its shot not falling, George Washington relies on the hustle of Mike Hall, center, and completes a perfect regular season in the Atlantic-10. (Evan Vucci - AP)
By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 5, 2006

George Washington's season was already touched with magic before yesterday's finale against Charlotte tipped off. The final 45 minutes of the regular season took things squarely into the realm of the fairy tale.

After Carl Elliott's last-second put-back dropped through the rim to give GW an 86-85 overtime win, fans streamed onto the court, players leapt onto the scorers' tables and danced with joy and Coach Karl Hobbs stood near midcourt, watching the mayhem with a smile and shaking his head in disbelief.

The Colonials were poised to lose at the end of regulation, until shooting guard Maureece Rice grabbed an offensive rebound and hit an off-balance three-pointer with less than 10 seconds remaining. They were on the verge of a heartbreaking overtime loss, until a bizarre technical foul against Charlotte gave the Colonials a final chance. Still, their hopes for an undefeated conference season appeared as doomed as freshman Noel Wilmore's desperation three-point attempt, until Elliott materialized underneath the high-arcing shot and put the ball into the basket as time expired.

While Elliott ripped off his jersey and sprinted across the floor, there were a few moments to contemplate what had just happened. George Washington (26-1, 16-0) had completed the fourth undefeated season in the Atlantic 10's 30-year history. The No. 7 Colonials had preserved the longest winning streak in the country (18 games) and the best overall record in Division I. They had set yet another team mark for wins in a season, while their best-known player sat on the bench in street clothes. They had done so on national television and against Charlotte (18-11, 11-5), the league's second-best team. And they had done so in one of the wackiest games any of its participants could remember.

"This has to rank up there as the number one game since I've been coaching," Hobbs said. "For it to end in such a dramatic fashion, and for it to end on these guys' Senior Day, you couldn't ask for a better way to close it out."

The postgame celebration was a rowdier version of tonight's Academy Awards. While face-painted students rampaged across the Smith Center's floor and the half-dressed Colonials donned beads, sunglasses and yellow-foam hats, Hobbs delivered a classy acceptance speech, first acknowledging his beaten opponent and then thanking family members, players and fans. The microphone was passed to several players, including center Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who missed his third straight game because of a left knee injury but played a key role in the postgame festivities.

"You are by far the greatest fans in the country," Mensah-Bonsu told the sellout crowd of 5,000. "You make college basketball fun."

The crowd, which began lining up for tickets 14 hours before the game, saw George Washington's closest call in an Atlantic 10 season filled with last-minute escapes. After leading by 11 early in the second half, the Colonials were slowly battered by D'Angelo Alexander, who scored 32 points. Charlotte led by three with 16 seconds left, and Mike Hall (13 points, 11 rebounds) missed a three-point attempt, the 11th straight the Colonials had missed. But Rice grabbed his second rebound of the game, headed to the left baseline and launched yet another three-point try that tied the score with 6.5 seconds left.

The Colonials' undefeated season was on the verge of extinction again when Rice missed a leaner with about seven seconds left in overtime and GW down by two. Alexander secured the rebound and was fouled by Hall, giving the 49ers two free throws that could have clinched the win.

But Charlotte guard Leemire Goldwire sent two elbows in Hall's direction as the play was ending, resulting in a technical foul. The referees watched replays of the incident for several minutes and then conferred with the coaches to explain their ruling. Lead official Fran Connolly said later that the referees were trying to ascertain whether any punches had been thrown, but that the technical foul had already been called on the court.

In any case, Alexander hit one free throw and Hall made two, setting the stage for Elliott's heroics. Almost exactly a year ago, the junior guard became highlight reel material with a last-second heave that gave the Colonials a win at Dayton. Yesterday's layin was considerably closer but equally dramatic.

"If I'm ever in a desperate situation, I've got to call this guy right here," guard Danilo Pinnock said while nodding at a laughing Elliott. "This is something, when I'm an old man, I'll be telling my great, great grands."

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