The George Washington Colonials led defending Atlantic-10 champion Xavier for all but 4:19 Wednesday night. And on the game's final possession, they found themselves one point away from their first win over the Musketeers since Feb. 2, 2006.
A 10-second sequence changed all that. The Colonials tried and failed to get the ball to leading scorer Tony Taylor, missed three separate tip-ins and left Charles E. Smith Center with another disappointing loss, 59-58.
A quiet Taylor said it all after the game: "The ball just didn't bounce our way."
"It's kind of been the luck we've had this year," George Washington (8-14, 3-5 A 10) head coach Mike Lonergan echoed. "I told the team I wasn't mad at [them], because I thought [they] got good shots. I mean the last play obviously broke down ... but up to that point I thought we executed and just one more jump shot probably would've sealed the game."
Ironically, the one-point differential between the two teams could be traced to their respective leading scorers: Taylor and Xavier's Tu Holloway. Taylor finished with 20 points, while Holloway notched 21 — including the short fadeaway that gave the Musketeers their last lead of the game.
"I don't think we could have any more confidence than we do in [Holloway]," senior center Kenny Frease said.
Holloway also dished out seven assists. He and Taylor went basket-for-basket and guarded one another for much of the game, but this was not simply a game of one-on-one. Sophomore forward Nemanja Mikic tallied a season-high 19 points and five 3-pointers for the Colonials, and teammate Lasan Kromah recorded a double-double with 11 points and 13 boards. Frease had 10 points for Xavier and regular-season leading-scorer Mark Lyons had nine.
Lyons entered the game just two points shy of 1,000 for his career, and Xavier fans didn't have to wait long for him to get there. He hit the team's opening bucket before a Mikic 3 ignited a 14-5 George Washington run. The Serb went on a tear in the first half, leading all scorers with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
"I think there were some times where we didn't have good communication on some of the ball-screen actions, and he got open and made some threes," Xavier guard Brad Redford said. "Heck of a shooter, heck of a player."
The Musketeers (15-7, 6-3), however, got back into the game by working the post. Frease converted a jump hook and dunk on consecutive possessions before Holloway hit a wide-open 3-pointer to give Xavier its first lead of the game at the 6:48 mark in the first half. The senior big man also played superb defense, helping keep George Washington's big men to a combined one basket in the game.
Crowd support and 3-point shooting helped the Colonials seize the lead once again. They shot 47.6 percent from beyond the arc — whereas Xavier shot just 50 percent from the free-throw line — and every 3 was followed by a roar from the 2,716 fans in attendance.
For Xavier head coach Chris Mack, environments like this are what make road victories so precious.
"It's not easy to win on the road in college basketball — just take a look around," he said. "But our kids are fighters, and they wanted to win, and we made the plays at the end to do that."
Holloway's final bucket was important, but Xavier's final five minutes were just as much so. The Musketeers pulled out five straight defensive stops to end the game, holding George Washington without a field goal for the last 4:33. Holloway converted a layup, and then a jumper to seal the victory.
"I was on the bench at the time and it seemed like it took forever," Redford said. "We were saying some prayers on the bench as the ball was getting tipped around the rim. But getting road wins in conference are tough and GW's a good team, so we're happy to get a win no matter how we get it."
Lonergan is also trying to focus on the silver lining.
"I'm proud of our effort. I'm upset that we lost ... and this one hurts probably more than any one this year. But it won't hurt twice as much after watching the film as some games this year," he said, trying to smile.
"The league is tough and we need to keep getting better — and we got better a little bit tonight."
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