For the Colonials, 'It Was a Matter of Trying to Survive'
There's no need to be anything but bare-naked candid after you get waxed by more than 30 points, when the other team is bigger and stronger and more experienced and perhaps even better prepared to play on college basketball's biggest stage. George Washington fell behind Vanderbilt 7-0, then 13-2, then 30-10, on the way to the worst loss on the first day of the NCAA tournament.
"From about the five-minute point on it was a matter of trying to survive," George Washington Coach Karl Hobbs said. "They were very prepared as soon as the ball went up. And I'm not so sure we were ready to play at the start. Before we could come to trap the ball, it was already out of their hands. They did a good job of spreading us out.
"We didn't react well when they came at us. It was truly a different level of basketball."
Hobbs wasn't exaggerating, sugarcoating or covering. His synopsis is a dead-on analysis of Vanderbilt's 77-44 dismantling of George Washington on Thursday. A bigger and vastly more experienced Vanderbilt team with capable offensive players took GW to school. As impossible as it seems, Vanderbilt was credited with 15 assists on 15 baskets the first half. Every time the Colonials attempted one of their bread-and-butter traps, a Vanderbilt player would zip the ball to an open teammate and almost instantly, somebody in a Commodores uniform would end up with an open three-pointer.
Vanderbilt had kids who don't even shoot three-pointers, such as George Drake, coming off the bench to make them. Asked if he was surprised to see Drake connecting from long distance, Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings said, "I was surprised, yeah; I'm not going to sit here and lie."
Eleven of Vanderbilt's dozen players scored, including a walk-on, David Rodriguez, who plays so sparingly (his second game ever) he didn't even have his name on his jersey. And while Vandy was shooting 52 percent in the first half to build an insurmountable 25-point intermission lead, GW's players were shooting as if their hands were lathered in Vaseline. Poor Damian Hollis had one shot stick between the glass and rim. You've never seen such misfiring in your life. The Colonials needed a flurry to get their shooting percentage above 20 for the game. It was as if they were playing a season opener against Marathon Oil, or were the No. 16 seed facing a top-seeded Duke team with Grant Hill and Christian Laettner 15 years ago.
This is what sometimes happens in Super Bowls and NCAA tournament games.
Everything is more dramatic. Early deficits seem bigger than they are to the team trailing. Any deficiency seems to be the kiss of death. And pretty quickly, somebody's buried. GW's problems in this matchup were youth and lack of size. Rob Diggs (6 feet 8, 187 pounds) and Hollis (6-8, 198) are talented kids, but they're twigs. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, trotted out run-stuffers Derrick Byars (6-7, 230), Alan Metcalfe (6-9, 260) and Ted Skuchas (6-11, 250).
"Hopefully," Hobbs said, "in another year or two our guys, when they are juniors and seniors, will physically be like some of the Vanderbilt guys."
If that happens next season, GW might be able to make a fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Three straight is pretty good for George Washington, which isn't Georgetown or Maryland when it comes to March expectations. Remember, the Colonials lost four starters from last year's tournament team. But the notion that this year's team was ready to beat Vanderbilt shouldn't have been advanced.
Diggs (a sophomore), Hollis (freshman), Travis King (freshman) and injured sophomore Cheyenne Moore ought to all benefit from participating in (or just watching) what unfolded Thursday.
GW came into the tournament with a No. 11 seed, just as George Mason did last season. But there was no magic in the number, the first name or the geography.
Vanderbilt's players apparently felt a little dissed at all the pregame talk (much of it from CBS analysts) that the Commodores would have trouble with GW's pressure defense. "We heard all week," Stallings said, "that we had never seen pressure like that and we would be shocked and there would be plenty of turnovers. I think Florida applies pretty good pressure. I think Tennessee applies pretty good pressure. I think Kentucky applies pretty good pressure."
Of course, Southeastern Conference teams pressure defensively, so Vanderbilt had seen enough of it to be ready for anything George Washington threw out there. But the Colonials' kids weren't yet ready for the pressure that comes from playing in the tournament, where being slightly overmatched can in an instant become being completely overwhelmed.