Intentions can be a heavy burden. I attended this game with a sense that I would attend a reasonably exciting inter-regional game between teams below the Red Line who have had some success in recent years, but are in no danger of being booted above the Red Line. I figured for my recap I could find some tenuous connection between George Washington's service in the French and Indian War and the Peoria people, who were members of the Illinois Confederation and resided near the Bradley Braves' campus (before their alliance with the French necessitated a move west after that same conflict). But a holiday-related weekend trip to New York necessitated a delay in putting pen to paper, and in the meantime the game itself was incredibly entertaining and John Wilmott recapped it ably. I also realized that there aren't any Colonials-Braves jokes that aren't in poor taste.
As John observed in his recap, a George Washington game at the Charles E. Smith Center is very much a mid-major spectacle, from soup to nuts. That observation bears expansion: it's not just the flash of the Smith Center, it's the attention to detail. GW's game operations appear to be run by Lester Freamon: at GW, all of the pieces matter.
It was an unseasonably warm night, so I skipped the bus and walked about a half hour to GW's campus to meet Patrick Byrnett, who had our tickets. Because it was exam week, we got a fantastic deal from one of those social-coupon websites the University of Maryland uses to unload its largely unwanted American-style Football tickets. In my estimation, two ducats to a game pitting the Atlantic 10 against the Missouri Valley, for less than the price of a bus ticket to New York, is a strong indication that your Athletic Director Gets It. I walked past the building's 22nd Street side a few minutes before tip-off, and was able to see through the street doors into the tunnel, where the Colonials were hyping each other up in anticipation of their pregame warm-up and introduction. It was the only bit of small-school charm I'd really see all night.
Walking into the Smith Center is unlike anything I'd experienced below the Red Line. I've seen college basketball games at venues as simple and intimate as Randolph-Macon College's Crenshaw Gymnasium, and as luxurious and expansive as Virginia's John Paul Jones Arena. The Smith Center combines excellent fit and finish, but isn't huge, which preserves intimacy. It's in that sense an ideal gym for a team below the Red Line that is attached to a university that justifies its heart-stopping sticker price by, inter alia, having fantastic student facilities.
But it's not just the fact of its combined luxury and intimacy -- they really get the small stuff right. Wilmott rightly observes that the first sight of a video board is a bit jarring, but when GW showcases a player on that video board, they don't just do the standard picture-class-height-weight-hometown rundown, they put up his major, or the college in which he's enrolled if he hasn't yet declared. It felt like a real throwback, and maybe an attempt to make sure the student body feels connected to its basketball team. This was the first of the little things I loved about the Smith Center.
The GW pep band, called the Colonial Brass, is not only good (and a pretty good size for exam week), but they are seriously well-dressed. While belting out "Hey Baby" and "The Time Warp" (seriously), they wear GW basketball jerseys. That's fine, but it gets better: their jersey number corresponds with that band member's class year. When Patrick and I realized that that's what the numbers stood for we felt both impressed and, because some of them wore "15," old.
The video board was impressive not only for its picture quality, but also for its recognition of the large Bradley contingent at the game. Right as Patrick and I were marveling at the number of fans wearing red, the video screen cut to a shot of the Bradley U. president Joanne Glasser, who was in attendance for an alumni event. The Smith Center staff not only put her on the big screen, which the well-lubricated visiting contingent appreciated, they also made it a point to note that she is a GW alumna. They also showed a number of other minor celebrities throughout the game, including Washington Wizards players (including Jordan Crawford, whose brother Jalen plays for Bradley), and Congressman Aaron Schock, a Bradley alumnus. I've never known a video board operator at a sporting event to take a break from trying to sell me pizzas and field hockey season tickets for long enough to actually increase my enjoyment of the game.
For those uninterested in what turned out to be a terrific basketball game, but still yearning to be entertained by events on the court, there was plenty on offer. The GW dance team, called the First Ladies, is a Title R-compliant group made up of much better dancers than I expected. They did a holiday-themed costume change for their Rockettes-inspired halftime show. But for sheer entertainment value, the First Ladies paled in comparison to the show put on by the doofuses selected to compete in the halftime competition. While Patrick didn't get to shame himself by missing a free throw this time, we did get to watch four sprinting football tackling dummies duke it out in a layup relay. The winning team did it right: both dudes ended up with their jerseys on backwards, they jokingly smack-talked the losing team, and they finished it off with a flying chest bump. Bravi, signori. Bravissimi!
After halftime, the "entertainment" calmed down and those in attendance were treated to a seesaw second half that would have made a full-price ticket, in an inferior gym, more than worth it. After Walt Lemon Jr. had carried Bradley for the entire first half, the Braves' colorful Taylor Brown came to life. The son of an NBA player and a model, Brown sported a pair of nerd-chic glasses and a high fade. His second half saw him transform from a guy whose look was trying too hard, to a guy trying to will his team to an important road win. When Lemon's dagger of a superhoop connected with 45 seconds to go to put the Braves up 67-64, they were the more confident team. GW's Tony Taylor attempted to match Brown's effort, contributing two made free throws, a steal, and an off-balance prayer at the buzzer, but couldn't quite get there.
As I walked back home through Foggy Bottom and DuPont Circle, passing countless bars hosting countless office holiday parties, I had time to consider Taylor's last shot. This wasn't Duke-Butler, and I have no emotional tie to either team, but I couldn't help but wonder what a buzzer beater feels like at the Chuck. Does the Colonial Brass play the fight song like a waltz after big wins, like some other schools? Would the exam-thinned student section have attempted a court rush? I don't know, but I do know this: that shot was the one piece GW didn't nail that night.
BRADLEY 67, at GEORGE WASHINGTON 66 12/15/2011
BRADLEY 5-4 (0-0) -- W. Lemon Jr 8-13 4-6 22; T. Brown 6-13 2-2 15; D. Simms-Edwards 1-7 1-2 4; J. Prosser 3-6 0-0 6; J. Eastman 4-6 0-0 12; S. Shayok 2-2 0-0 4; A. Thompson 1-3 0-2 2; J. Crawford 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 26-52 7-12 67. GEORGE WASHINGTON 4-6 (0-0) -- T. Taylor 4-10 2-3 11; J. Edwards 2-5 0-0 4; L. Kromah 3-10 4-7 10; A. Ware 6-14 0-0 13; J. Kopriva 6-6 0-2 12; N. Mikic 4-12 0-0 8; D. Smith 3-8 0-1 6; B. Bynes 1-5 0-0 2; D. Guest 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 29-70 6-13 66.
Three-point goals: BRAD 8-16 (T. Brown 1-2; J. Eastman 4-5; D. Simms-Edwards 1-5; W. Lemon 2-3; J. Crawford 0-1), GW 2-10 (T. Taylor 1-2; A. Ware 1-1; B. Bynes 0-1; L. Kromah 0-2; N. Mikic 0-4); Rebounds: BRAD 30 (J. Prosser 9), GW 36 (J. Edwards 7); Assists: BRAD 14 (D. Simms-Edwards 4), GW 15 (L. Kromah 7); Total Fouls -- BRAD 12, GW 12; Fouled Out: BRAD-None; GW-None.