In his 29 seasons as a head coach, Tom Penders has coached all sorts of teams. However, few can compare to this George Washington men's basketball team in terms of emotional ups and downs.
"This team, they're going to take your heart some nights," Penders said. "They're going to win your heart other nights."
Last night, the Colonials did both in one game and earned Penders his 500th career victory by rallying from an 11-point first-half deficit to defeat South Florida, 88-76, before 3,998 at the Smith Center.
"I'm very, very proud to [reach the 500 career victory mark] at George Washington," said Penders, in his second season with the Colonials. "These people believed in me. I can't say enough about the support they've given me."
To get the victory, Penders benched the team's leading scorer, freshman guard SirValiant Brown (Lee High School) for the first 1 minute 49 seconds of the game. Brown, who is averaging 22.7 points per game, missed part of a recent team film session.
"He was just a few minutes late, but I have rules," Penders said. "It wasn't really a punishment. I wasn't even angry with him."
However, coming off the bench apparently did not suit Brown, who missed his first nine shots of and turned over the ball five times in the first half. He finally made his first basket of the game--a three-pointer--with 2 minutes 22 seconds remaining in the half.
"I don't know what was going on," Brown said. "I was in a slump."
Brown led the Colonials (2-2) with 33 points but took ill-advised shots and turned the ball over eight times. He finished 7 of 22 from the field, including 3 of 15 on three-point attempts. He was most effective from the free throw line, where he made 16 of 19 shots.
"He makes a lot of bad shots," South Florida Coach Seth Greenberg said. "That makes him a good player."
George Washington rarely looked in sync against South Florida (0-1), which was picked to win the National Division of Conference USA. The Colonials were sloppy, committing 22 turnovers. They suffered defensive lapses. But in the end, they had just enough to defeat the Bulls. Altron Jackson led South Florida with 25 points.
George Washington started chipping away at the Bulls' 41-34 halftime lead with baskets by Brown and Mike King. Brown sank a jump shot five minutes into the second half to spark an 18-4 run by the Colonials that put them ahead 64-52. South Florida was never able to regain the lead.
King, who contributed little in the first half, came on strong in the second half. He scored 14 of his 20 points after halftime.
While its guards struggled with their shooting touch, the Colonials built an 18-9 lead behind the strength of its front line--King, Francisco de Miranda and Antxon Iturbe. Reserve Patrick Ngongba also contributed.
However, the Colonials were unable to sustain their momentum. They turned over the ball on five of six possessions during a two-minute stretch midway through the first half. At the same time, South Florida was in the midst of a 23-3 run that put the Bulls ahead 32-21.
George Washington came back to narrow South Florida's lead to 34-32 on a three-point basket and a three-point play by Brown with two minutes remaining in the half.
In his 29th season as a head coach, Penders's career record is 500-330, putting him 16th among active Division I coaches in wins. He is 22-11 at George Washington. With a .723 career winning percentage, Penders leads Atlantic 10 Conference coaches.
CAPTION: George Washington Coach Tom Penders has a reason to get excited-- in this case, an official's call during the final minutes of his 500th career victory.
CAPTION: Afterward, Penders celebrates the win with forward Mike King. The coach said he was proud to reach the milestone victory with the Colonials.