- The Washington Times - Monday, December 6, 2004

After beating two ranked teams on consecutive days, George Washington may have earned a place among the nation’s top programs.

The Colonials outlasted No.12 Maryland 101-92 to win the BB&T; Classic yesterday at MCI Center, on the heels of Saturday’s 78-54 win over No.11 Michigan State. When the Associated Press Top 25 poll is released today, GW (5-1) should make it easily while Maryland (4-2) likely will tumble after losing two of its last three games. Michigan State (4-2) also has lost two of its last three.

But GW coach Karl Hobbs downplayed the Colonials becoming the first team to reach 100 points against Maryland since UCLA beat the Terrapins 105-70 in the second round of the 2000 NCAA tournament. This tournament championship has Hobbs looking ahead to next spring, when Selection Sunday could include the Colonials for the first time since 1999.

“The measuring stick will be on [March 13. We need to be] in a room somewhere sitting around waiting for our name to be called,” Hobbs said. “We took a step further to our goal.”

It was perhaps the most electrifying game between local teams since 1993, when Maryland beat Georgetown 83-80 in overtime at Capital Centre. The crowd of 13,343 seemed evenly divided while enjoying a good old-fashioned shootout that featured 11 players scoring in double figures. There were plenty of cheers for both sides — from Colonials guard J.R. Pinnock’s eye-popping dunk to Terps forward Ekene Ibekwe’s block that he then took all the way to the other end for a score.

“I just wish I could have been sitting in the stands so I could have enjoyed it,” Hobbs said.

Certainly, summer pickup games where area players become friendly rivals added some excitement to the game. Maryland is used to being the best local team, and GW wanted a chance to earn bragging rights for next summer’s matchups.

“This hurts a little more because you have to see the guys around and they’re going to be talking about it,” Terps guard Chris McCray said. “All they hear about is Maryland and Georgetown. They’ve beaten two good teams so they should get national recognition now.”

Maryland coach Gary Williams claimed the 10-year tournament puts more pressure on the Terps. Maryland has won it four times, but not since 2001. Williams wasn’t talking of pulling out of the tournament, but he’d rather it include only one other local team.

“It’s tough playing local teams when you’re supposed to be the best team,” he said. “[The tournament] doesn’t do us any good. It makes basketball fans in Washington happy, but we have to do what’s best for our program. That’s not being selfish. We’ve always gone out of our way to play local schools, but I’m not sure if the tournament format with local schools is the best format.”

Both sides showed balance, as all seven Terps playing more than one minute scored nine or more points, led by guard John Gilchrist’s 23. GW guard T.J. Thompson, named the tournament MVP, scored 27 points while guard J.R. Pinnock led four other Colonials in double figures with 22. Six different Colonials scored during a 12-5 run in the first half.

Maryland was troubled by free throws and 3-pointers. The Terps converted only 14 of 28 foul shots and six of 23 3-pointers. The Colonials were 10 of 17 at the line and 10 of 14 beyond the arc.

“We can’t be a 3-point shooting team first,” Williams said. “We have to go inside-out with our offense. We haven’t learned that yet and it hurts us in big games.”

Maryland’s pressure defense managed to score 20 points off turnovers to fuel several comebacks, but each team committed 18 turnovers.

“Maryland is probably the best team in the country at stealing the ball and converting,” Hobbs said.

GW led 30-20 with 8:30 remaining in the first half for its largest lead. Maryland managed to close to 46-41 in the final minute, but a loose ball led to Thompson’s 3-pointer for a 49-41 halftime lead.

Maryland opened the second half more aggressively and led 58-57 with 14:14 remaining on the first of three consecutive baskets underneath by forward James Gist. However, GW hit three straight 3-pointers to take a 63-60 lead and never trailed again. Every time Maryland came within a possession of the lead, GW scored to increase its cushion.

“You can’t keep falling behind a couple times in the game,” Williams said. “It takes a lot out of you to try to come back.”

Maryland’s final run closed the game to 92-89 with 45.9 seconds remaining. However, GW broke the Terps press for a fastbreak basket that effectively ended the rally.

Note — Michigan State guard Maurice Ager, GW guard J.R. Pinnock, Maryland forward Nik Caner-Medley and Gilchrist joined GW’s Thompson on the all-tournament team.

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