The Saint Louis Billikens played their best game of the year and had a great opportunity to send the game into overtime. However, George Washington's athleticism bailed them out as forward Yuta Watanabe block saved the game for the Colonials in their conference home opener. Billikens fans were begging for a foul as it appeared Crawford's wrist might have been hit, but the refs swallowed the whistle to end the game.
SLU had an opportunity after GW's Kevin Larsen turned the ball over with 18 seconds left in the game giving the Billikens an opportunity to tie the game. SLU could not get a shot off, but were bailed out by a Colonials kickball with 1.5 seconds left in the game. Bills guard Mike Crawford called his own numbers and whispered a play to center Austin Gillmann. Crawford in-bounded the ball, Gillmann tipped the ball to Crawford who had an open look for three. However, Watanabe was able to recover in time to make the block and perserve the victory for the Colonials.
Despite the disappointing loss, the Bills had an excellent night shooting 55 percent from the field and shot 52 percent from 3-point range in their best offensive performance all-season. The Billikens were able to break the 1-3-1 zone of GW by shooting over the top of in the first half, but went away from that strategy in the second half and that allowed the Colonials to get back into the game.
The Colonials opened the game going inside to Kevin Larsen who had an advantage against SLU's John Manning. After GW's Head Coach Mike Lonergan put in his subs, SLU Head Coach Jim Crews to call a timeout after a blown defensive assignment caused GW to take a 12-5 lead. After the Bills timeout, they went on a 6-0 run to pull within 1 point and the momentum began to shift to the Bills.
A 13-3 run gave Saint Louis their first lead of the game, 24-16, with 7:18 left. SLU had scoring from an unlikely source as freshman guard Davell Roby hit two 3-pointers during this run. Roby has been a defensive stopper for the Bills this season, but has had two straight games where he has done well on the offensive end. Normally, this is where Saint Louis would go cold, but that did not happen the rest of the first half.
Saint Louis continued to play well on the offensive end, GW got within 7 points a few times in the first half, but SLU responded with buckets by forward Milik Yarbrough and guard Roby. This sustained scoring production from Yarbrough and Roby allowed to hold onto an 8 point lead going into halftime and give Billiken fans some hope of an upset.
That hope however quickly faded in the second half. After the Billikens increased their lead to double-digits, they began to have issues as GW packed in their zone and began to pressure the ball forcing turnovers from the Billikens. Another major factor to allow the Colonials to get back into the game was SLU guard Marcus Bartley picking up his fourth foul early in the second half. This forced SLU guard Austin McBroom into the game, who is a very short guard, and he struggled against the much taller and athletic guards of GW.
After a 3-pointer by McBroom, SLU went cold. They went away from their 3-point shooting and tried to penetrate into the 1-3-1 zone, but struggled against it. The Colonials responded by going to a 13-0 run capped off by a Watanabe 3-pointer to reclaim the lead, 52-49, with 9:57 left in the game. SLU Head Coach Jim Crews was furious and got a technical foul after a questionable foul call against Davell Roby. The Bills responded to their coach's technical and emotion.
The Bills clawed their way back, but were able to tie the game at 64 on a Bartley 3-pointer with 4:47 left in the game. GW were able to make some basket to increase their lead back to 6 points, but missed some key buckets in the final 2 minutes to seal the game.
Saint Louis responded with two 3-pointers by Bartley and Yarbrough to pull the game within 3 points. SLU set up their press and GW's Larsen threw the ball to the Saint Louis bench to set up the final sequence of the game.
It was an impressive game, GW showed great resilience coming back from a double-digit deficit in the second half. They have a very similar problem that the Billikens had last year with a lack of depth, it will be interesting to see how they continue to play going forward. For the Billikens, this was their best game of the year, if they can maintain their offense a full 40 minutes and continue to develop trust, then they will surprise some teams later in the conference season.
Saint Louis will stay on the road to take on the Davidson Wildcats on Saturday, Jan. 10th at 7 p.m. eastern time. While George Washington will travel to take on the LaSalle Explorers on Saturday, Jan. 10th at 12:30 p.m. eastern time.