By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 29, 2009
George Washington would have liked to put on a better performance for President Obama, who dropped by Smith Center on Saturday afternoon, but the Colonials were undone by their slow start.
With the president and his family cheering on first lady Michelle Obama's brother, Oregon State Coach Craig Robinson, the Beavers picked up a much-needed win, beating GW, 64-57.
The Colonials (4-1), who fell behind 14-0 to start the game, pulled to 59-57 with 33 seconds remaining. The sparse post-Thanksgiving crowd of 2,401 was in a frenzy, eager for a dramatic comeback.
But it was not to be. Oregon State (2-3) closed out its win by making 5 of 6 free throws, and GW missed a pair of three-point attempts.
As Robinson said afterward, "This was a game for experienced guys."
And it was clear from the start which team had the more veteran players. They were wearing orange and black.
"Mentally, we just weren't ready getting out of the gate," GW Coach Karl Hobbs said. "I don't know if it was the big stage, all the hoopla surrounding the game. [Oregon State is] a tough team. Once you get behind, they control the tempo, and we really couldn't get the game at the pace that we wanted to play at."
Although the atmosphere wasn't quite the same as the last time a president visited Smith Center, there nonetheless was an electric aura in the arena. When President Clinton brought daughter Chelsea to watch GW knock off top-ranked Massachusetts on Feb. 4, 1995, the arena was more than twice as full. But what the crowd lacked in size it made up for in enthusiasm.
Obama made the short trip from the White House to Smith Center, arriving about 10 minutes before tip-off. As he walked into the arena, he and his family received a standing ovation. Obama, dressed casually in a black sports jacket, dark sweater and brown pants, shook hands with several GW students seated in the Colonial Army section before taking his seat in the front row behind the Oregon State bench.
The president sat next to his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson. Michelle Obama was seated next to her mother. Daughters Sasha, Malia and their cousin, Leslie Robinson, Craig Robinson's daughter, filled out the row.
As he sat munching on his popcorn in the first half, Obama had to like what he saw out of the Beavers. Their length and size completely flustered GW. Oregon State threw a mix of zone defenses at the Colonials, refusing to let them find an offensive rhythm.
"It was very exciting for us to find out [Obama] was going to be attending the basketball game," Colonials freshman guard Bryan Bynes said. "I think it was just the excitement, the atmosphere. We just came out like we were in a rush. We were rushing everything."
GW, which starts two freshmen and a sophomore, turned over the ball on its first two possessions and had seven turnovers before scoring its first points.
Oregon State, which runs a version of the Princeton offense, built its lead to 32-14 by making 50 percent of its shots before halftime. OSU senior forward Seth Tarver scored 11 of his 18 points in the first half.
The Beavers' lead was starting to look insurmountable when GW rallied. A 10-2 run to end the half, capped by a pair of three-pointers by Lasan Kromah (Eleanor Roosevelt), pulled the Colonials to 34-24 at halftime. Kromah scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting to lead the Colonials.
Although it never led, GW put a scare into Oregon State late. In the final minute, Bynes and Tony Taylor had back-to-back steals that led to layups. Then, with the crowd chanting, "Yes we can!" Kromah sank a three-pointer and the Colonials trailed by their smallest margin, two points.
"We never felt like we were out of the game and that's how we played," Hobbs said.
Obama stayed after the game was over to shake hands with players and coaches from both teams.
"He told us good game, great effort," Bynes said. "Personally, I felt like . . . I can't even explain the words right now. I was very excited to shake his hand. Even with the loss, that was a bright spot of the day."