By: Abe Rothstein
Shots went up, and tears fell as GW lost their second round matchup 87-76 in the A-10 tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY.
For a second straight year, GW fell as the seven seed to a ten seed, except this year felt different. With a team filled with seniors and players who had not yet played under Coach Caputo, the Buff and Blue had a team bond that we have not seen in a long time.
The story of the 2022-2023 George Washington C*****s (for the last time ever) was one that the players ought to be proud of despite the rough ending to the season. Coming into the Atlantic 10 tournament, GW, who had been projected to finish 12th in the preseason coaches poll, defied expectations by finishing tied for sixth in the conference and had the chance to be even higher if a few end of the game scenarios had gone their way.
The game started off with a bang, just as GW hoped, as senior center Hunter Dean won the tip, and the Buff and Blue quickly took the lead on a Dean layup. Dean had emerged as a scoring threat in the final games of the season, scoring a career-high in two straight games.
The hot start from Dean rubbed off on other members of the veteran squad as Ricky Lindo Jr, another player at the end of his college eligibility, nailed a three in the corner, followed up by another dunk from Lindo and a midrange from Brendan Adams to bring the lead to 9-0 in the opening minutes.
It seemed as if everything was going the way of GW as they were doing what they do best, get out and run in transition. The team feasted from inside with a James Bishop floater and showed Saint Joe’s why they finished the regular season first in the conference in two point shooting percentage at 54.6%, which was good for 14th in the entire country.
The fast start by GW shortly had the spike strips thrown on it by Saint Joe’s and Head Coach Billy Lange, who looked to adjust to the quick scoring barrage by GW. By moving to a 3-2 zone, Lange and the Hawks, who donned their “Hawk Hill” uniforms, were able to curtail the GW offense. The zone messed with the flow of the GW offense, but the Buff and Blue were able to take advantage of the zone by feeding Dean the ball in the middle of the zone, where he was able to manipulate the defense by finding a cutting Lindo Jr. for the slam. There were bright spots in the zone, such as the ability to grab offensive rebounds, which is something GW knows a lot about after a disastrous rebounding performance against La Salle last week.
Even at the onset of the 3-2 zone, it looked like everything was swinging in favor of the Buff and Blue until turnovers started to bite them. The true turning point of the game was a foul called on Amir Harris on a three point attempt. Those three points shifted momentum in favor of the Hawks and would not truly go away as the Hawks would fly on an 11-0 run.
The first half continued to be a back and forth for both teams, who had tied the season series against each other 1-1, after a thrilling overtime victory for GW at the Smith Center and a brutal defeat against Saint Joe’s in Philadelphia. As the Buff and Blue were sitting on a four point lead, the momentum changed on a five point play by the Hawks. Yes, you read that correctly.
Following an offensive rebound by Saint Joe’s and a GW foul on the ensuing shot attempt, the play was ruled as an and one as Ricky Lindo held onto the rim, causing it to shake and an automatic goaltending call. Caputo, who has been incredibly composed this year when it comes to officiating, and boy, have there been times when I have no idea how he has, threw his whiteboard down next to the bench. As the whiteboard slammed to the ground to the back of the bench, the marker defied physics and, in slow motion, rolled to the middle of the court, forcing the refs to call a technical foul on the first year coach. The technical, unlike the NBA, awarded two free throws to Saint Joe’s, which were nailed, giving the Hawks a one point lead going into halftime.
“I screwed up and got a technical for getting mad,” said Coach Caputo in the postgame press conference. This was only the second technical foul all year for Coach, as he received his first during the fiasco of a midseason tournament in Hawaii.
Saint Joe’s adjusted out of halftime and ran their offense through second team all A-10 member Erik Reynolds II, who dazzled at the Barclays Center. Reynolds, a DMV product, was not offered by GW coming out of high school and certainly did everything possible to show GW that they had made a big mistake.
Saint Joe’s expanded their lead to five, and from then on, never fully looked back. While GW did have a brief run to take a one point lead following free throws from James Bishop, who provided 25 points, eight assists, and six rebounds (a season high). That lead was the last time GW would see a lead in the 2022-2023 season, as they shot only 5-27 from three point range and 39% from the field.
They were unable to stop Reynolds, who delivered a career high 34 points on 10-22 shooting and a perfect 12-12 from the charity stripe. Cameron Brown was also an essential piece for the Hawks, finishing with 18 points on 7-11 from the field.
“We switched the matchup on him, I thought Reynolds was just terrific. His shot making, ability to get to the free throw line, shot 12 free throws, difficult guy to defend bottom line. One of the best guards in the league,” said Caputo when asked about the talented guard.
GW was unable to muster any late game magic in the final game for many members of the Buff and Blue. Among players who are out of remaining eligibility is Lindo, who Caputo convinced to have one more year in Foggy Bottom, and certainly had an up and down year dealing with foul trouble. Harris, a senior, has one more year of eligibility and became the team’s best defensive player amidst struggles on the offensive end. Dean had emerged as a true scoring threat in what is potentially his final year wearing Buff and Blue and had a career high in both points (8.8) and rebounds (5.9).
Dean and Harris do have the ability to return to Foggy Bottom, but their status is unknown as of now.
The two stars for George Washington this year were members of the backcourt, Brendan Adams and James Bishop. Adams, who is in his graduate year and is going to be graduating with his MBA after completing his degree in only three years at UConn, was awarded the Most Improved Player award in the A-10 postseason awards. Adams averaged 17.5 points per game, which more than doubled his previous career high of 8.2 points per game.
“It’s been great, especially this past year, the way Coach [Caputo] came in and the way fans rallied around us” Adams was emotional as he continued, “it was great to play in the Smith Center especially, made great bonds with the guys, got to play with my brothers out here, it’s been great.”
The bond and brotherhood certainly were the theme of this gut-wrenching press conference as both Adams and his fellow running mate in the backcourt James Bishop were extremely teary when reflecting on a historic season.
“It’s been a great year, sad to see it end the way it did, but I got my brothers with me playing the sport I love, ” said Bishop, becoming visibly emotional as he continued, “Proud of everyone that played, everybody that helped, managers, GAs coaches, creating a relationship with them and going out to war with them everyday.”
Love for the game of basketball and the teammates was beyond evident, as anyone watching that press conference couldn’t do anything but have their heartbreak for the two guys who gave so much to the program.
Bishop had a historic season, and one for the GW history books, who, in my opinion, should have been the A-10 Player of the Year. The Baltimore product averaged 21.5 points per game, which easily led the A-10, and 5.1 assists which were good for 3rd in the league. He was awarded at the end of the season with all A-10 first team, an extremely high honor.
For seniors on this team, their impact was felt by everyone. This was not only felt by the players but by coaches as well.
“I don’t know if it felt this way a year ago, but right now for [James Bishop and Brendan Adams] it hurts because they put so much into it and they have so much pride for playing at GW and the university and their experience,” Caputo stated, “ You get a little bit of that feeling of letting people down… that’s a good thing in some ways.”
While the year did not end in the fashion that the team had wanted, the vibe around the team is different, and the results this season mean a lot for the future of the team. The future is what looks to be bright around the program in Foggy Bottom.
Caputo went deeply into his first year as the Head Coach of a once-storied program, “I couldn’t have been luckier to inherit this great group of guys. When I walked into the locker for the first time, you don’t know what to expect, we got a group that was very very eager to learn and be a part of something bigger than themselves, trying to find some success.”
Amidst the success that many players were able to achieve, the team hit marks that they had not in over five years, such as achieving the most wins for the program in both the regular season and conference since the first year of Maurice Joseph in 2017.
The success of many players and the program will have a major effect on the talent they can bring into Foggy Bottom, as GW already has three talented guards arriving in the summer, with additions in the transfer portal likely on the way, including more recruits.
“It’s been great, we love D.C., we love the institution. I think I’m a good fit at GW, GW’s a good fit for me. What the students have done, rallying around the program, the players, the idea of creating a great environment at the Smith Center. There’s a lot there. It’s not where it needs to be, but there’s a lot there. I’m not so sure that was the case a year ago,” Caputo concluded.
Despite another year ending in a disappointing fashion in their first game of the Atlantic 10 tournament, the future is bright in Foggy Bottom. Whether or not the seniors return, the mark they have left on the program has been notable in bringing Foggy Bottom back on the map in the world of college basketball. We are all rooting for the seniors, wishing them success in whatever they look to do in the future. They’ve brought the fans at GW something to cheer about, even when it seemed as if they had hit the Foggy Bottom of the basketball world.
I personally could not be luckier to have gotten to know these players, and whatever they decide to do, I hope everybody can respect whatever they choose because they’re all-star humans who have given their all for GW.
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