BROOKLYN, N.Y. - I was somewhat surprised to see George Washington with the biggest student section of the four at the evening session of the first round on Thursday, especially because I had seen Saint Joseph's at the Palestra a couple of months ago
with what seemed like its entire student population in attendance for a "meaningless" game against Penn, although as we found out, no Big Five contest in Philly is ever "meaningless".
It was especially stunning because the Colonials didn't even know they were playing in the Atlantic-10 Tournament until Isaiah Armwood's dunk gave them a regular-season ending win over Dayton
and the No. 11 (of 12) seed here in Brooklyn.
But a closer look at the GW student section showed something extremely interesting. There were a couple of rows of students, but behind them there were men in suits and ties, women also dressed more for work than for a basketball game. A few of them even had George Washington jerseys over their suits, an interesting fashion look.
As I peered even tighter, some of these people were clearly older than the average undergrad. I saw some hairlines that matched mine even among the crowd, and suddenly the answer hit me. Most of these people were imposters, they weren't students at all.
But they used to be. GW, like many schools obviously, has a large alumni base in New York City, and the Colonials, who have enjoyed at least moderate success over the years, don't play this way often in the Atlantic-10. Sure there's Fordham once every couple of years, but that's it. And that's Fordham, of course, not exactly a huge stage.
Add the fact that this is the first time the Atlantic-10 has ever held its tournament in New York (previously in Atlantic City), and this was finally a real chance to see George Washington play on a reasonably big stage.
From the looks of it, they had a blast: letting the beers flow, catching up with old friends, sharing stories about GW with people they may have never even met before. We all like to revisit the past, some of more than others, and some of us more often than others. For most of us, the past was always better, always more innocent, especially when you're talking about your undergrad days.
It's cliché, but I always tell anyone I can find in the high school where I work to please enjoy your four years of college, because life will soon get a lot more complicated, whether you want it to or not.
And, for the most part, the current Colonials on the court let their alumni live it up, dominating UMass on the boards and keeping the game close throughout, leading for most of the first half and grabbing a lead with seven minutes left on a steal and layup by Joe McDonald, an advantage that was extended to 59-55 a minute later when Lasan Kromah continued the domination inside with a layup.
Out of desperation, UMass coach Derek Kellogg put post players Terrell Vinson and Cady Lalanne back in the game, but Vinson fouled out with 5:14 left and Lalanne followed him with 2:48 to go. Two Kevin Larsen free throws put GW up 68-64, and it looked like it was party time for the alumni, whose numbers had thinned just a bit; it was after 11 p.m. and it was a Thursday after all.
But the party was ruined by a little guy named Chaz Williams. Hopefully you've heard of him, although he's never played in the NCAA Tournament, he might be the single most entertaining player I've seen this season. Now I didn't say best, Williams has a tendency to play on the edge and when you go there, you do make some mistakes as well.
For pure entertainment value, however? I think he wins. He's listed at 5-foot-9, but at one point he tried to get in Lalanne's face - not being mean, just prodding as a leader should - and his eyes were about chest high. But the word indefatigable was invented for Williams, I believe. He runs, jumps, and attacks at every opportunity, good for at least a couple of circus shots per game that a man of his size just shouldn't be able to pull off.
First it was Williams assisting on a Trey Davis #superhoop, and then a coast-to-coast contested layup to put undermanned UMass up with 2:24 left. After McDonald put the Colonials back in front a minute later, Williams took exactly six seconds to change that, and with 35 seconds remaining, the Minutemen clinging to a one-point lead and the shot clock running down, Williams somehow drove into the lane and finished over guys more than a foot taller than him.
Armwood missed a potential tying #superhoop, but the Colonials got their 25th offensive rebound of the game, Armwood's ninth (they won the overall rebounding battle 50-32), and were looking to set up for another one when Williams swooped in out of nowhere, per his usual, and found a teammate while flying out of bounds, saving the day in his typical dramatic style, finishing with 16 points, eight assists, and three steals.
George Washington finished a disappointing 13-17 in Mike Lonergan's (formerly of Vermont) second year in charge, and the alumni were upset they didn't have at least one more night to relive their old glory. Or at least what they perceived to be their old glory.
But, unfortunately, it was back to doing what the current George Washington students - including the players, cheerleaders, and band - will do for most of their lives, trying to get some sleep so they could get up and go to work the next day.
Which is why, even though we know it ends in a loss, we want to prolong it as long as humanly possible.