- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — George Washington left Gaylord Entertainment Center late Friday night thinking about what might have been. The Colonials hung with Georgia Tech, last season’s national runner-up, but their stellar season ended following a horrible performance from the free throw line.

The Yellow Jackets, the Albuquerque region’s fifth seed, broke open a one-point game with a 12-point run late in the second half to defeat 12th-seeded GW 80-68 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“I am happy that we made the NCAA tournament, but I am also upset we didn’t capitalize on the situation,” GW swingman J.R. Pinnock said. “That’s a team that went to the Final Four last year, and we are right there. We missed 12 free throws and lost by 12. That’s the story of the game right there.”

The Colonials (70.3 from the line entering the game) made four of 16 free throws, including one of nine in the first half. The Yellow Jackets took advantage en route to today’s second-round match with Louisville.

Pops Mensah-Bonsu had a solid game with 15 points, but sank just one of five from the not-so-charitable stripe. Only T.J. Thompson, who was 2-for-2, made more foul shots than he missed.

“I have no explanation for it,” said GW coach Karl Hobbs, the fourth-year coach who took the program to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. “It didn’t look like anybody was nervous at the free throw line. It didn’t look like anybody was thinking at the line. I think after we missed so many in row then guys start thinking about them.”

It was a melancholy locker room following the loss. Hobbs talked about the impressive season, complete with a 22-8 record, an Atlantic 10 divisional title and the program’s first A-10 tournament championship in its 29 seasons in the league. However, the bleary-eyed Colonials were still smarting from the missed opportunity.

“If we made a couple more free throws we could have won,” said senior point guard Thompson, the All-Atlantic 10 performer who had only eight points on two of 11 field goal attempts, including two of eight 3-pointers. “I will be watching this game [today] knowing that we played with them for a good portion and that we almost had it.”

Georgia Tech took control after a fastbreak layup by Pinnock (12 points) cut the Yellow Jackets lead to 57-56 with 9:32 left. B.J. Elder (15 points) scored eight seconds later in transition to start Tech’s 12-0 run. The Yellow Jackets scored on six straight possessions, while GW went cold and was shut out for nearly five minutes. A layup by Jarrett Jack (20 points) gave Georgia Tech an insurmountable 69-56 lead with 5:52 remaining.

“I didn’t expect this to be a 12-point game,” Yellow Jackets coach Paul Hewitt said. “I expected it to be a one-possession game. Certainly [GW’s] free throw shooting had something to do with that.”

The Colonials now look forward to next season, when they lose only one starter in Thompson. Juniors Mensah-Bonsu, Mike Hall and Omar Williams will return along with sophomores Carl Elliott and Pinnock, the A-10 Sixth Man of the Year. GW likely will be favored to win the A-10 and return to the NCAA tournament again.

And the Colonials hope to use Friday’s stinging loss to inspire them to bigger things.

“You really don’t want to let this go,” Pinnock said. “You want to remember how this feels. So next year we can use this as fuel.”

Thompson put things in perspective as he sat in the locker room for the final time as a GW player.

“I am feeling a little overjoyed and yet disappointed,” the senior from Germantown said. “My first two years we finished last in the league. We were just struggling to try to stay in games with people. Last year we made big strides by going to the NIT. This year, we just put it all together and finally got here. I may not have shot the ball well [against Georgia Tech], but I ended my career pretty high.”

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