The record books will simply reduce Saturday afternoon into a tally in the loss column for the Colonials.
In black and white, GW’s game will not be recorded as a victory. But that mark won’t show that the team fought back from a double-digit deficit. It won’t show that a Colonial squad paced by four freshmen took No. 14 Butler to the wire in front of a screaming sold-out Smith Center.
It won’t show the final scramble for a shot in a three-point game. Instead, it will show that GW dropped 59-56 to the Bulldogs, and that makes the nature of the loss cold comfort in its wake.
“I think we still wanted to get the W. It still was a blow to us. But it shows that if we play hard from the get-go, rather than when we get down 17, we can win. We can compete,” freshman guard Joe McDonald said.
At one point during Saturday’s game, it looked as if all hope was lost for the Colonials (11-11, 5-4 A-10). The wheels were about to come off the team, Butler up by 17 points off the strength of explosive senior guard Rotnei Clarke.
GW wasn’t about to buckle under pressure, though. Playing an aggressive man-to-man defense all afternoon, the team began to press heavily, bearing down on the Bulldogs in transition.
Butler began to crack, tiny fissions that first appeared as a bobbled pass here, a step out of bounds there. Slowly, the Colonials chipped away at the Bulldog lead. The fury and tempo of the game built, as player after player hit the deck for jump balls, until – with just 52 seconds left – GW was only down by three.
“These guys have a lot of character and heart. I wish we wouldn’t get down so much, it’s happening a lot, but we’re playing really good teams. We haven’t packed it in yet this year,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “We just couldn’t get that open three.”
Though the final possession would end without the Colonials wholly making up their deficit, the push back against Butler’s lead was a dramatic improvement from the way GW opened play.
Neither team shot particularly well before the break. The Bulldogs only had 37.1 percent shooting in the first half, and the Colonials just 24.2 percent. But Butler scored three treys, compared to GW’s zero.
The Bulldogs were more clearly in the game on the boards, gathering a 30-19 first-half rebound advantage that gave them the edge over the first twenty minutes of play. Entering halftime in that hole gave the Colonials impetus to fight.
“When you’re down, it’s easy to attack,” senior forward Isaiah Armwood said. “They were just getting putbacks, putbacks, that was half of their offense. So we had to do a better job on that.”
Faced with a deep Butler offensive attack that rotated through various shooters, the Colonials were determined to answer defensively. Prior to Saturday’s game, both Lonergan and senior guard Lasan Kromah said the team’s strong points were its rebounding and defense, and GW came into the second half determined to showcase its strengths.
Switching into the press, the Colonials closed the rebounding gap, finishing only five behind Butler’s 46. Further disrupting a Bulldog offense that relied on calm, accurate passing was the 19 turnovers GW forced.
“It got us back in the game,” Lonergan said. “I give credit to the crowd, they were unbelievable. That energy, and I was hoping we could get a couple of five second calls. It really kept us going, we just couldn’t get that big basket.”
It was, in the end, shooting that would prove the Colonials’ downfall. Faced with a Butler defense that focused on spreading GW out and getting players off their marks, the team turned in one of its worst shooting performances of the season.
Shot after shot didn’t fall, and the Colonials ended shooting just 27.9 percent on the game. Further frustrating matters was GW’s 1-for-12 line from three-point range. Though Armwood recorded his second straight double-double, with 14 points and 11 boards, and McDonald and Kromah added 10 points apiece, the shooting just wasn’t there.
“We work on it all the time, you can address it through recruiting,” Lonergan said. “I think [freshman forward] Patricio [Garino] can become a better shooter, and [junior forward] Nemanja’s [Mikic] been hot and cold, like most of our guys. At home, we’ve got to make some shots. They’re keying on Isaiah inside, which they should, so somebody else has to step it up and hit one of those shots.”
Still, shooting struggles aside, the 17-point deficit aside, the loss aside, GW’s head coach knows that today is more than a tally in the defeat column.
“I’m proud of our guys, I have no problem saying that. That’s a heck of a team, a heck of a coach, and it’s a hell of a league,” Lonergan said.