- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 13, 2005

CINCINNATI — George Washington coach Karl Hobbs got right to the point in his pregame pep talk.

The only charter member of the Atlantic 10 that hadn’t won its tournament was getting another chance, one the Colonials couldn’t afford to waste by getting nervous or rattled.

“I just told our team, ‘Hey, it’s our time,’” Hobbs said.

After 29 years as an also-ran, the Colonials finally got to wear the nets around their necks. T.J. Thompson led a late 12-point run as GW snagged its elusive title with a 76-67 victory last night over Saint Joseph’s.

The Colonials (22-7) lost title games in 1991 and 1998, going a long time between chances. They became an afterthought during two losing seasons in 2001-02 and 2002-03 before rebounding with an NIT berth last year and now their first NCAA appearance in six years.

“I’m still amazed,” said Thompson, sitting with the net slung around his neck and the game ball cradled in his lap. “In my first two years here, we were at the bottom of the league. Last year we took a step forward in the NIT. But nothing compares with the feeling when you win the A-10.”

Another solid game by Pat Carroll wasn’t nearly enough for Saint Joseph’s (19-11), which had the tournament’s top seed. Carroll had 25 points, but the Hawks went only 9-for-27 from behind the 3-point arc and faded down the stretch.

“They have tremendous quickness, a lot of balance,” coach Phil Martelli said. “And I think their balance did us in with eight minutes left. Our defense let down and with their quickness, they were able to exploit it.”

Carroll’s 3-pointer gave Saint Joseph’s its final lead, 49-46, with 6:52 to go. Thompson’s 3 and his driving layup started a decisive run in which he had eight of the 12 points. Omar Williams led GW with 20 points, and Thompson finished with 15.

Both teams sensed they had to win to make the NCAA tournament. GW was the only A-10 team to win 20 games, and none of the league’s teams has persuasive RPI numbers.

“We knew that if we lost, it would be highly unlikely that we’d get an at-large bid,” Colonials center Pops Mensah-Bonsu said.

Saint Joseph’s regrouped after making the NCAA’s final eight last year behind Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, who went to the NBA. The Hawks got off to a 3-6 start before jelling around Carroll, the conference’s co-Player of the Year.

“We ended up 16-5 in our last 21 games,” Carroll said. “That speaks a lot to the coaching staff getting players to believe we were a good team when we started 3-6. The coaches turned our attitude and we started believing in ourselves.”

GW’s main job was to contain the left-handed shooter, who had 21 points when the Hawks beat the Colonials 71-56 only 11 days earlier. Carroll had a career-high 30 in a semifinal win over Xavier on Friday night.

Carl Elliott and J.R. Pinnock took turns chasing Carroll around the court, arms extended to deny any pass. The strategy worked initially: Carroll missed his first three shots — Pinnock swatted away a driving layup attempt — and had only five points in the first half.

Carroll wasn’t the only Hawk having a hard time. Saint Joseph’s missed its first nine shots and 18 of its first 22 against frenetic man-to-man coverage. The Hawks had more turnovers (eight) than field goals (seven) in the first half.

Saint Joseph’s stayed in the game with good defense of its own. The conference’s top defensive team — opponents average 59 points — prevented the Colonials from getting into the fast pace they prefer.

Chet Stachitas, who was 0-for-7 in the first half, made the Hawks’ first three baskets after the break, giving Saint Joseph’s its first lead at 26-25. Stachitas made his first five shots in the second half, getting openings because GW was so focused on Carroll.

Carroll, the most accurate 3-point shooter in school history, then found his touch. He hit consecutive 3s — one from the right corner, one from the left — and made all three free throws after he was knocked to the floor while attempting another. His personal nine-point run put the Hawks up 42-35.

Thompson, who set GW’s career 3-point mark the previous night, then hit a 3 that blunted the Hawks’ charge. Two minutes later, he started the run that brought the win.

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