- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Mike Hall was “embarrassed.”

George Washington’s postseason hopes were fading fast. UNC Wilmington led by 18 midway through the second half, and it looked like a quick exit for Colonials in the NCAA tournament.

Then — somehow, some way — GW turned a sure defeat into its most impressive achievement in a season of accomplishments. Instead of leaving Greensboro Coliseum in despair after the final game for seniors Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Omar Williams and Hall, the Colonials surged back for a startling 88-85 victory in overtime.

GW used its pressure defense and opportunistic offense to score 19 straight points and even erased a four-point deficit in overtime to pull out the program’s first NCAA tournament win since 1994.

“It was hard to believe we had come this far and were potentially being blown out in the first round of the NCAA tournament,” Hall said. “I was embarrassed. We couldn’t go out that way.”

Williams scored the game-winning basket after hovering in the air in the lane to give the Colonials the lead for good at 86-85 with 1:06 left. Wilmington’s T.J. Carter missed a 3-pointer, and GW’s Carl Elliott made one of two free throws with 25 seconds remaining to make it a two-point lead.

Elliott followed that with a steal and was fouled with 10 seconds left. He made the first but again missed the second to give the Seahawks hope. But after Wilmington’s Brendan Wyrick missed a desperation 3-pointer and Elliott got the rebound, it set off a wild celebration by the Colonials, complete with tears and hugs.

“It was all about resiliency and the will of this basketball team,” said coach Karl Hobbs, whose Colonials were coming off a first-round loss in the Atlantic 10 tournament. “It’s about a bunch of guys who love each other and don’t want this to end.”

GW, which played with Mensah-Bonsu for the first time in three weeks, moved on to the second round and will play top-seeded Duke here tomorrow. The eighth-seeded Colonials (27-2) shook off last week’s loss to Temple without Mensah-Bonsu and now have won 19 of their last 20.

“We want Duke,” Elliott said with a grin.

Williams led GW with 16 points, while Hall registered a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Elliott had a strong game with 15 points, making three of five 3-pointers — including two to spark the big rally — and added six rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Mensah-Bonsu, who suffered a slight tear in the meniscus in his left knee Feb. 22 and had surgery, scored 10 points and was effective inside while playing 27 minutes.

“It felt good,” said Mensah-Bonsu, after the particularly physical game. “I was able to make some moves I couldn’t earlier this week.”

Ninth-seeded Wilmington (26-8) had its eight-game winning streak snapped despite a sensational game from Maryland native Carter, who had 25 points. John Goldsberry finished with 14 points and nine assists while shredding GW’s defense until the latter stages.

Regulation had a hectic ending as GW’s Maureece Rice was going up for a wide-open layup as the red light on the backboard went on. Previously, Elliott had a chance to give the Colonials the lead with 11.6 seconds left after being fouled on a 3-point shot with Wilmington ahead 79-77. He made the first two before missing the final one.

Carter missed a difficult shot, and the Colonials didn’t get the final shot off. Danilo Pinnock and his teammates were smiling as they came into the huddle.

“They looked like they had won the game,” Hobbs said. “And that’s how I wanted them to feel.”

Wilmington built an 85-81 lead in the extra session on Wyrick’s 3-pointer with 2:06 left, but the Colonials scored the game’s final seven points.

GW’s full-court pressure fueled a frenetic comeback after Wilmington took a 64-46 lead with 11:05 left in regulation. The Colonials responded with those 19 straight points, starting on two consecutive 3-pointers by Elliott. Pinnock finally gave the Colonials the lead at 65-64 on a 15-foot jumper with 6:50 left.

“We pressed before but not with the same sense of urgency,” said Hall, who was yelling to fire up his teammates. “We were so scared. I don’t think [Wilmington] realized how desperate we were.”

After the Colonials rallied, a back-and-forth battle got going. Todd Hendley’s 3-pointer from the left side gave Wilmington a 71-70 lead with 4:02 left. Rice answered with his own pull-up 3 to put the Colonials back in front.

With GW trailing 76-75, Mensah-Bonsu missed a pair of free throws with 1:47 left, but the Colonials retook the lead after Carter missed a difficult runner. Elliott’s driving shot rolled out, but Hall tipped it in with 54 seconds left to give GW a one-point lead.

Eventually, the Colonials continued their historic season, which already has yielded a program record for wins, a school-high 18-game winning streak and the fourth undefeated A-10 season.

“This was the best so far,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “This just sums up who we are. If you look at how fast we came back against this team in this environment, this showed what we can do.”

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