Colonials Escape an Early Exit

Carl Elliott
Carl Elliott, who finishes with 15 points and six rebounds, celebrates George Washington's comeback win. The Colonials were down by four points with two minutes left in overtime. (Jonathan Newton - The Washington Post)
By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 17, 2006

GREENSBORO, N.C., March 16 -- In this month of mathematical formulas and split-screen college basketball overdoses, George Washington's public mantra has been simple: progress. The team's record had improved in each of the last three seasons. The team's postseason positioning had steadily improved, too; this year's No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament was the best in school history.

The final step came Thursday night, and it was every bit as stunning as the preceding four months. After erasing a massive second-half deficit and then ignoring an overtime deficit nearly as daunting, the Colonials somehow emerged with an 88-85 victory over ninth-seeded UNC Wilmington. The victory came against a Seahawks team playing in front of a supportive crowd in its home state; it was George Washington's first NCAA tournament win since 1994.

"I can't tell you about anything in the past; the only thing I can tell you is this team is very focused and very hungry and they're just trying to fulfill their dreams," GW Coach Karl Hobbs said. "It came down to a will, a will to win."

It was the fourth overtime victory of the season for a team that has made a habit out of late-game drama. This time, the Colonials (27-2) were down by four with two minutes left in overtime. Then Danilo Pinnock made a three-pointer, Omar Williams hit a driving bank shot and Carl Elliott made 2 of 4 free throws. The Seahawks (25-8) never scored again.

For much of the evening, the Colonials looked like the team that meekly bowed out of the Atlantic 10 tournament rather than the confident squad that ripped off 18 straight wins. Pops Mensah-Bonsu returned from his left knee injury but was hardly dominant, scoring 10 points and getting just three rebounds. Pinnock, the team's leading scorer, was held scoreless for more than 28 minutes. With 11 minutes left, the Colonials trailed by 18.

It was a familiar position: trailing badly in a hostile environment. Already this season, the Colonials overcame deficits of 12 at Marshall, 10 at Saint Joseph's and 17 at Xavier. They trailed Charlotte by five in the final minute of their regular season finale and still came out on top.

"I think it's just a confidence, and a sense of knowing what we have to do," Elliott said. "You can never let an opponent see you sweat."

Elliott breathed life into this comeback with back-to-back three-pointers, and suddenly the Seahawks began to shudder under the Colonials' full-court pressure and half-court traps. A Seahawks' miss led to a GW layup. A turnover led to another. A missed free throw gave way to a three-point play by Mike Hall. In less than four minutes, the Colonials scored 19 unanswered points.

"You're playing so hard that you don't realize how quickly you're scoring points," Hobbs said. "I don't remember ever putting up that many points that quickly."

But the Seahawks steadied themselves, and the teams traded high-pressure shots throughout several thrilling minutes. The lead changed hands 10 times in the final seven minutes of regulation.

"I understand we blew a big lead, but we played at an unbelievably high level to get that lead," UNC Wilmington Coach Brad Brownell said. "I don't know if any team in the country is going to play that way for 40 minutes. You're going to have a little bit of a lapse."

George Washington led by two in the final minute before Chopticon High graduate T.J. Carter (25 points) drained a three-pointer. Elliott was fouled attempting a three-pointer and made 2 of 3 shots to tie the score. After Carter missed another three-point attempt, the game went into overtime and the Colonials finally did enough to earn the win.

"Once we got it down to a manageable score we figured it was a whole new ballgame," Williams said. "And if we kept up that pressure and intensity and kept playing like that, we knew we were going to pull it out."

The Colonials will play Duke on Saturday. That game could provide George Washington with an unprecedented opportunity for national exposure. Thursday night was a fitting start.

"We get to have another chance, that's what it means," said Mensah-Bonsu, who said he felt at ease despite the two-week layoff. "We finally got a win in the tournament. We got over that hump. Now it's time to keep it moving."

ยท DUKE 70, SOUTHERN 54: Shelden Williams and J.J. Redick combined for all but 12 of their team's points to help the top-seeded Blue Devils overcome a sluggish start.

Williams finished with 29 points, 18 rebounds and 4 blocks, while Redick matched those 29 points and made five three-pointers. The rest of the team was 2 for 12 from the field, with Josh McRoberts having those two baskets on his way to eight points for Duke (31-3).

Chris Alexander had 19 points for the Jaguars (19-13), who gave an inspired effort in trying to become the first No. 16 seed to win in the first round. They led twice in the first half and trailed only 40-37 with 16 1/2 minutes left in the game.

But Williams started a 16-4 run with a baby hook in the lane, Redick added a couple of threes and Southern never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.

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