HILADELPHIA, March 8 – George Washington's SirValiant Brown, Chris Monroe and Jason Smith sat courtside at the Spectrum with their teammates today, watching Massachusetts defeat Duquesne, 77-52, in a first-round game of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.
The Colonials, seeded No. 2 in the West Division, were there to scout their quarterfinal opponent. On the whole, they would rather have been playing today.
After a first-round bye, George Washington will meet Massachusetts at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech edged Fordham, 51-48, today to advance to the quarterfinals against top-seeded and sixth-ranked Temple at noon Thursday.
"I'd really rather have played a game today, just to get the feel of it," Monroe said. "I want to get used to the rims and stuff like that. [The bye] can go both ways. It's good for rest, but we still need to play a little bit."
George Washington (15-14) has won nine of its last 12 games, but comes into the tournament with little postseason experience. Four starters – Monroe, Brown, Smith and point guard Bernard Barrow – have never played in this conference tournament. Brown and Monroe are freshmen, while Barrow is a junior college transfer. Smith sat out most of last season with an abdominal injury.
Brown, the second-leading scorer in Division I at 24.3 points per game, was held to his lowest total of the season (nine) in the regular season finale last week against Temple, a 98-67 loss. But the 6-foot-1 guard rarely fails on offense. Brown has scored 30 or more points eight times and is 19 points from breaking the school's single-season scoring record of 723 points set by Bob Tallent in 1968-69. Brown was named second-team all-Atlantic 10 and the league's rookie of the year today.
As important as Brown's offense is, a key matchup Thursday will be Smith, an all-rookie team selection, against senior forward Chris Kirkland. Smith has averaged 15.3 points over the past four games, but the coaches have stressed better defense to him in an effort to stop Kirkland – a 6-6 swingman who scored 26 points in an 87-86 loss to GW on Feb. 29.
"Chris is a great player," Smith said. "I'll just try to keep him in front of me and keep my hands going, keep my feet going. I'll be fine."
Tempo will be the biggest factor, according to coaches for both teams. George Washington likes to run and score in transition, but Massachusetts prefers to play a slower half-court offense.
"We were able to create a quicker tempo in the game we won," GW Coach Tom Penders said. "We've got to look to run, get as many easy baskets as we can. I consider them a good half-court defensive team. So whenever we can, we have to push it to get easy baskets."
Said Massachusetts Coach Bruiser Flint: "We've got to make those guys earn everything. They get you to play the way they want you to you play. We can't do that."
HILADELPHIA - In 1995, George Washington ended the University of Massachusetts' home-winning streak, at the time the nation's longest.
In 1996, the Colonials shattered the Final-Four-bound Minutemen's quest for a perfect season.
In the quarterfinals of the both the 1997 and 1998 Atlantic 10 Tournaments, GW bounced NCAA Tournament-bound UMass from the conference field with 58-49 and 88-83 losses, respectively.
Over the years when the stakes have been high, George Washington has delighted in defeating UMass, something it will get a chance to do again today at 2:30 p.m., again in the quarterfinals of the A-10 Tournament.
The two teams have recent history as well. The Colonials bested the Minutemen, 87-76, nine days ago at the Mullins Center, a game in which UMass squandered a late lead. After that game Monty Mack said things would be different when the two teams met in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
"We know how they play now," said Mack of the Colonials' run-and-gun style. "That'll make a big difference. We'll be ready. We know what to expect and we need to go out and just battle with them."
Senior forward Chris Kirkland agreed.
"We just need to slow them down and play our game," he said.
For the result to be reversed, the Minutemen will need to avoid the poor decisions that plagued them last week.
"We have to go out there and play smart," Mack said. "We have to go out and play defense and it will be a battle."
"We have to play well defensively and we have to play a lot smarter than we did in the first game," said UMass coach Bruiser Flint. "We have to play our game because we can't win at their game. We have to play good in the half court on the offensive end. We have to make those guys earn everything."
The game will feature the second matchup of the league's top two scorers. George Washington freshman SirValiant Brown is averaging 24.3 points per game, while Mack follows at 20.0.