Wake Forest 97,
George Washington 76
It was obvious which guard in last night's game between George Washington and Wake Forest is a preseason all-American and considered the best floor general in the nation. The public address announcer in Lawrence Joel Coliseum left senior T.J. Thompson out of the Colonials' starting lineup; Demon Deacons sophomore Chris Paul was greeted by a spotlight and the school's mascot, which drove a Harley-Davidson onto the parquet floor.
It was also easy to see which team is ranked No. 2 in the nation and a popular choice to advance to the Final Four, and which team is trying to make its first NCAA tournament in six seasons. With Paul scoring 25 points and dribbling through everything the Colonials threw at him, the Demon Deacons overwhelmed George Washington, 97-76, in an opening round game of the Preseason National Invitation Tournament.
"They said that he was the best and he is the best," Colonials Coach Karl Hobbs said. "I thought, clear and simple, Paul took the game over. He was able to penetrate to the teeth of our defense. When they needed to make a big play, he was the one that made it. We wanted to control him, and he controlled the game."
For a while, Thompson and the Colonials traded punches with the Demon Deacons, trailing by only five points at halftime and by five with about nine minutes left. But after guard Carl Elliott's three-pointer cut Wake Forest's lead to 75-70, the Demon Deacons switched to a triangle-and-two defense, and the Colonials struggled to score the rest of the way.
Wake Forest outscored George Washington 22-6 in the final 8 minutes 57 seconds, and the Colonials didn't make a basket in the last 41/2 minutes, missing 11 of their last 13 shots.
"GW was scoring on every play that we played man-to-man," Wake Forest Coach Skip Prosser said. "It was gratifying that we won the game on defense; it was disappointing that it was this type, though. I think and hope our players are disappointed, too. We must get better at guarding."
So must the Colonials, who were ultimately undone by their 25 turnovers, committing nine in the final 61/2 minutes, and porous defense -- the Demon Deacons shot 60 percent in the second half and 55.7 percent in the game.
"We gave up too many layups," Hobbs said. "Any time an ACC team that is picked to go to the Final Four shoots 55 percent in its building, you're usually going to lose."
Paul, from Lewisville, N.C., lived up to his reputation as one of the nation's best players, making 7 of 12 shots with six assists, three steals and four turnovers. Just as important, he was able to crack George Washington's full-court press and half-court trap.
"I think the thing that makes him special is his ability to change speed and change the speed of the game, and to know when he needs to make a play," Hobbs said. "We tried to pressure and trap, we tried to do a lot of things to him, but he was too crafty."
Said George Washington forward Mike Hall: "Their guards are as good as advertised. It's really hard to simulate [Paul's] speed until you're out there with him."
Junior guard Justin Gray added 18 points and seven steals for the Demon Deacons, and center Eric Williams scored 16 on 6-for-8 shooting.
Thompson led the Colonials with 16 points, but he scored only four in the second half, after making four three-pointers in the game's first 14 minutes. Hall scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and sophomore guard J.R. Pinnock scored 10 with three assists and two steals. George Washington made just 11 of 33 shots in the second half, after shooting 46.7 percent in the first.
Thompson, the preseason Atlantic 10 player of the year, didn't back down from Paul during the first half. Every time the Demon Deacons tried to pull away from the Colonials, Thompson came up with a big basket. When Wake Forest went ahead 32-24 on forward Jamaal Levy's dunk, Thompson nailed three-pointers from the top of the key on George Washington's next two possessions, cutting the Demon Deacons' lead to 33-30.
Thompson gave the Colonials their second lead -- they scored the game's first basket -- with his fourth three-pointer, which made it 36-35 with 5:46 left in the half. But the Demon Deacons scored on eight of their first nine possessions of the second half, going ahead 63-49 on forward Trent Strickland's layup with 15:58 remaining.