- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2008

Xavier point guard Drew Lavender has “Nope!” written across each of his sneakers, a reminder to himself and his 20th-ranked Musketeers that good teams don’t wilt when an opponent makes a push.

And so as George Washington kept cutting into Xavier’s lead in the final minutes last night at Smith Center, Lavender picked the best time push back.

Lavender had 14 points, including 12 in the second half, as Xavier held on for a 74-66 victory over George Washington.

“You’ll be on the court and say, ‘Nah I don’t want to play defense this play’ or ‘I don’t want to go hard this play, I’m tired,’ ” Lavender said. “Guys always give into themselves, but I look down at my shoe and say ‘Nope.’ ”

Lavender added seven assists, including a key pass to Josh Duncan (14 points) with just more than a minute left. But it was his scoring that made the difference, hitting a 3 to push Xavier’s lead to seven and key free throws in the final possessions to hand George Washington (5-8, 1-2 Atlantic 10) its first home loss since February — also to Xavier.

“Lavender is as good a guard that there is in the country,” GW coach Karl Hobbs said.

Maureece Rice led George Washington with 22 points on 7-for-17 shooting. Wynton Witherspoon added 15 points in 29 minutes.

Against one of the top shooting and most-disciplined teams in the Atlantic 10, George Washington needed an ugly game to make it close. At the start, the pace played in the Colonials’ favor. The teams combined for just eight baskets in the first eight minutes, with Xavier (15-4, 3-1) struggling to counter George Washington’s zone defense and the Colonials failing to get much from outside the paint (1-for-5 from 3-point range).

Xavier couldn’t muster a consistent halfcourt offense against GW’s zone to expand a 9-0 run, though, and it didn’t get much from leading scorer Lavender (0-for-4, two points) in the first half. George Washington took advantage to stay close, and Rice hit two 3s and had two layups as the Colonials closed the half on a 16-7 run to make it 33-30.

As the second half opened, it appeared Xavier again would fall victim to its poor play on the road (1-3 entering last night). Three days after its surprising 78-59 loss at Temple in which the Musketeers allowed 13 3s (the most since 2002) and struggled at the free throw line, Xavier looked nothing like a top tier A-10 team, let alone a nationally ranked one.

After Rice missed a 3-pointer from left of the key, Rob Diggs soared from the right to slam home a one-handed rebound, drawing a foul and a furious roar from the crowd. It pulled GW to within 37-34 and appeared to be the momentum-switching play the Colonials needed to take control.

Yet Xavier responded, as it would for the remainder of the half, when Duncan hit two 3s and Stanley Burrell converted inside as part of a 7-2 run to make it 48-38.

Lavender also started to establish himself, hitting a 3-pointer and recording a steal and a few assists to give a slight boost to the Xavier offense.

His clutch drive in the lane through two defenders gave Xavier a 66-60 edge with 2:58 left.

Witherspoon then had his shot, recording a key block on Xavier’s putback attempt that would have stretched the lead to eight and following it up with a 3 from the right side to make it 66-63 with just more than two minutes left to play.

Damian Hollis stepped out of bounds on GW’s ensuing possession, and Lavender’s key rebound with 18 seconds left sealed the victory.

“That’s what veteran teams do,” Hobbs said. “You create opportunities for yourselves. And that’s what they did tonight. When you’re good, you kind of create your own opportunities. I used to know what that feels like.”

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