The way George Washington University's frustrating basketball season ended today, with Mike (Mo) O'Reilly barely missing a 60-footer that would have sent the Atlantic 10 Conference quarterfinal against St. Joseph's into overtime, was not lost on Colonials center Mike Brown.
"That last shot Mo took was typical of our whole year," Brown said after the 52-49 defeat in the Rutgers Athletic Center. "It was so close, yet so far."
On a day GW played exceptional defense and rallied from 14 points down with 9 1/2 minutes to play against the league's hottest team, Brown, too, was so close to scoring a lot of points, yet so far away. Still bothered by a strained big left toe injured two days after Christmas, he scored only 11 points in his final college game, being outplayed by St. Joe freshman Rodney Blake.
Blake, who is 6 feet 8 and weighs 250 pounds, blocked a tournament-record nine shots, scored six points and had six rebounds in leading the third-seeded Hawks (18-10, winner of 13 of their last 15) into Friday's semifinals against Temple. The Owls defeated St. Bonaventure, 67-56, in the other afternoon game.
In last night's doubleheader, fourth-seeded Rutgers defeated Massachusetts, 69-67, on John Battle's two foul shots with 1:56 to go, and top-seeded West Virginia was upset by Duquesne, 70-66, to end the Mountaineers' bid for a third straight tournament title.
"We can't win a tough game when Mike Brown shoots four of 16 from the field and three of eight from the foul line," said GW Coach Gerry Gimelstob, whose team was a preseason Atlantic 10 cofavorite but finished 14-14.
For much of the game, St. Joseph's Coach Jim Boyle deployed Blake on Brown heads up. Boyle said Brown's injury did not make a difference. "I think we have the answer here," Boyle said. "We pitted his offensive skills against Rodney's defensive skills."
Brown missed layups and open short jumpers, and Blake even blocked two of his close-in shots in succession midway through the second half. In his last six games, Brown made only 25 of 71 shots and 18 of 32 free throws.
"I couldn't buy a basket today," said Brown, who scored 40 against Rutgers last month. "It just wasn't falling. The toe was still hurting. It was a lot of things. The toe prevents me from dunking the ball. So I had to shoot the layups and I was missing them. I was trying too hard, I guess."
The Colonials, 0-10 in the Rutgers Athletic Center, shot 40.4 percent for the game, but had made only nine of 30 when Blake blocked his ninth shot. At the time, the Hawks led, 39-25. Then St. Joe's tried to slow the tempo, but the strategy backfired, with GW scoring eight straight points, including two baskets by Joe Wassel (a team-high 12 points) to get back into the game.
Maurice Martin scored half of his game-high 16 points in the next four minutes. GW had several opportunities (Wassel: "We were getting great scoring opportunities all day.") but Brown and Wassel missed. The layup by Wassel would have cut the deficit to 44-43 with two minutes to play.
Instead, the Hawks (18-10) got a three-point play from Martin and it was 47-41 with 1:42 left. Brian Butler made a followup shot for GW, then, after James Flint made two free throws for St. Joseph's, O'Reilly made a three-point shot and it was 49-46. Two more free throws by Flint and a three-point shot by Wassel made it 51-49 with 14 seconds to play and GW out of timeouts. So Wassel fouled Martin. He made the first foul shot, but missed the second. Danny Williams (seven points, seven rebounds) got the rebound for GW, but Williams seemed to be indecisive and in a rush to make the outlet pass, and Martin, circling around from the foul line, stole it.
"I saw him take off," Williams said. "I guess he came back. I didn't see him. When I saw him it was too late. He had the ball."
Martin passed to Bob Lojewski (12 points) who was fouled by Williams with three seconds left. Lojewski missed the free throw. Brown took the rebound and tossed the ball to O'Reilly some 20 feet behind midcourt. Wassel was open in the corner, but time likely would have expired before he could have caught a pass and shot. So O'Reilly let loose with a high-arcing push shot.
"I told Brown where I'd be, where to throw the outlet pass," O'Reilly said. "Joe and I were practicing them yesterday. I made one out of three."
Wassel thought this shot was good. O'Reilly wasn't as certain.
As the ball hit the rim and bounded to the floor, Martin, standing next to O'Reilly, grabbed him and said, "I'm glad that didn't go in."
So, the Colonials, who had high preseason expectations, are headed not for the NCAA tournament or even the NIT, but spring break. And Gimelstob left the building to start recruiting.
What was he going to look for with his three available scholarships? "Some kids who can really score," he said.