Every December the Verizon Center in Washington, DC plays host to the BB&T Classic. In addition to providing some good old-fashioned basketball, the organizers raise money to benefit the Children’s Charities Foundation through a gala dinner, a golf tournament, and other great programs. Now in its 19th year of existence, the two-game event showcases a few local teams as well as a notable out-of-town program. This year’s doubleheader featured Oklahoma coming east to face George Mason in game one and Maryland squaring off against George Washington in game two. So, when faced with the prospects of watching the Redskins lose their fifth straight game or seeing if a pair of one-loss teams could keep knocking on the door of the top-25, which option do you think Jon Teitel chose?!
The Verizon Center was pretty empty for tip-off, but what do you expect at 1PM ET on a Sunday during DC’s first snowstorm of the year? The first sports-related sighting of the day involved food: Wizards forward Nene eating lunch in the front row in his practice clothes during an off-day. He lasted about 15 minutes before heading towards either the practice court or the weight room. The Sooners came into town 7-1 with their lone loss coming at the hands of then-top-ranked Michigan State, and Coach Lon Kruger appears to have his team well-positioned to make its second straight NCAA tourney appearance. The Patriots started the year 4-0 before dropping three of their next four, so Coach Paul Hewitt was just trying to get his team back on track.
Oklahoma did not make a single three-point shot in the first half and only had two assist but somehow had a double-digit lead at halftime. Their entire starting five came into the game averaging 10+ points per game, but their frontcourt led the way early as 6’7” Cameron Clark hit a pair of jumpers en route to eight first half points, while 6’8” Ryan Spangler dominated the glass with seven rebounds in 11 minutes, including a couple that he was able to put back in for some easy points inside. Bryon Allen tried to keep GMU in the game with a pair of threes but had to sit after picking up his third foul with nine minutes left in the half. He added yet another long-range shot in the second half and finished with a team-high 15 points, but when your opponent is averaging more than 87 points per game for the first time in 20 years, your team needs to shoot a little better than 30% from the field.
The second half was all Sooners, all the time. Spangler showed his dark side by taunting his opponent after a nice block, then yelling at 250-pound center Erik Copes after their arms got entangled. Buddy Hield overcame a terrible first half shooting performance (1-6) to finish with 12 points and 10 rebounds, thanks to a pair of dunks and a coast-to-coast layup off the glass. Clark continued the dunk parade with a pair of his own slams and joined the double-double club with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Oklahoma dominated GMU in the paint (50-20) and ended up with a 81-66 win, I lost count of the number of rebound put-backs they had. The most glaring concern was Isaiah Cousins’ atrocious assist to turnover ratio of 1:8, but if the Sooners can focus on holding onto the ball I predict they will give the rest of a very strong Big 12 fits all season long.
The break between the two games provided the second sports-related sighting of the day: 11-year NBA veteran and DC native Walt Williams, who dropped by to watch his alma mater (Maryland) face 7-1 GW. At first glance it appeared to be a classic game on the Big 10 Network featuring the Terps’ Evan Smotrycz (formerly of Michigan) against the Colonials’ leading scorer Maurice Creek (who graduated from Indiana last May). Both transfers got off to hot starts from long range, with Smotrycz knocking down both of his three point attempts in the first half and Creek making 3-of-5 from behind the arc en route to 12 points in the first half as GW opened up a 41-29 advantage at the break. Maryland guard Dez Wells was able to repeatedly get into the lane: going coast-to-coast for a layup, driving for a floater that counted despite being called for a charge, and a leaner that also dropped through the net. GW coach Mike Lonergan was not satisfied with his team’s play early on so he subbed in a new five-man lineup after only six minutes of play, which seemed to swing the momentum in his team’s direction. Isaiah Armwood had seven points and eight rebounds in the first half as well as a big block that drew gasps from the crowd. Kethan Savage was also able to score inside on a series of layups and dunks, while teammate Joe McDonald ran the point almost flawlessly (six assists and only one turnover in the first half) and even dove over his own bench to try and save a ball from going out of bounds.
The Colonials continued to pour it on in the second half thanks to McDonald: the sophomore point guard finished with 13 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and four steals. He also made nine of his 11 free throw attempts and was hustling the entire time (throwing the ball off of Jake Layman’s leg, diving for a steal, etc.). Terps’ Coach Mark Turgeon got frustrated with the refs after a foul call did not go his way and yelled his way to a technical foul with eight minutes to play and his team trailing by 10 points. Creek made four straight free throws (two for the foul and two for the technical) to make it a 66-52 game, but that is when the tide turned. Wells continued to score inside at will while finishing with a team-high 16 points, but he tripped McDonald and had to sit after his fifth foul with six minutes remaining. His teammate Layman picked up the slack in his absence with a three, an old-fashioned three after a nice ball-fake, a rebound and put-back to make it 70-67, and a reverse layup in the final two minutes.
Maryland freshman Roddy Peters has had to learn on the fly while Seth Allen is recovering from a left foot fracture, and he was simply magnificent down the stretch as the Terps implemented a full-court press: a steal and layup off the glass to make it 71-69, a steal with one minute left that made everyone rise to their feet, and after getting fouled by John Kopriva with 20 seconds left he made a pair of free throws to tie the game at 75. I was debating whether to run to the bathroom before the game headed to overtime, but was glad I did not after watching Maryland native Creek save his best for the last. He took the ball in isolation, took a few dribbles, and made a fade-away jumper over Nick Faust with 0.6 seconds left to win the game and cause the GW fans to erupt in pandemonium. It is one thing to watch a game-winner on TV, but to see it happen in person is truly something special. GW coach Mike Lonergan has only made one NCAA tourney in his first eight years as a D-1 head coach, and I know that the A-10 is stacked this year with UMass, VCU and St. Louis, but I think the upperclassman duo of Creek/Armwood will be enough to get him back to the tourney this March.