Vanderbilt 77, George Washington 44
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)—Shan Foster blocked Maureece Rice’s jump shot with a leaping flourish, yet still had time to outrun George Washington’s top player downcourt and hit a 3-pointer for Vanderbilt.
Derrick Byars hit another 3-pointer in the Commodores’ first-half barrage a moment later, and Foster couldn’t hide his glee as he ran upcourt with a 20-point lead and an all-but-certain ticket to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“We rollin’, baby!” Foster yelled.
Vanderbilt unveiled a top talent to the nation in its 77-44 win over George Washington on Thursday—and it wasn’t Byars, the SEC’s player of the year.
Foster was the shouting, shooting star of the show, scoring 18 points and keying a dominant defensive effort as the Commodores rolled in the East Regional.
“I think people got an idea what we’re all about as a basketball club,” said Byars, who scored 12 points. “We compete on both ends.”
Vanderbilt (21-11) will face Washington State in the second round Saturday after the sixth-seeded Commodores’ surprisingly easy victory in their first NCAA tournament game since 2004, when they reached the round of 16.
George Washington (23-9) had a reputation for defensive pressure—but that scheme was no problem for the fluid Commodores, who applied a little pressure of their own.
“We realized if we just took care of the ball, we were going to get any shot we wanted,” Foster said. “We have a lot of unselfish guys that make plays for other people, but we also have a lot of guys who make shots.”
Vandy also did it with defense: George Washington missed its first six shots and didn’t get a field goal for nearly 6 1/2 minutes. The 11th-seeded Colonials then endured another 11 1/2 -minute stretch without a basket, falling behind by 29 late in the first half of their lowest-scoring performance of the season.
“They knocked down all of their shots, moved the ball well, and we weren’t reacting quick enough,” said Carl Elliott, who led the Colonials with just eight points. “That got us behind.”
Foster, a junior who made the all-conference second team in Byars’ shadow, had as many field goals as the entire George Washington roster for most of the first 30 minutes. He also alternated with Alex Gordon in shadowing Rice, holding the Colonials’ leading scorer without a point until midway through the second half, when Vanderbilt led by 32.
“Our players felt like all they had heard about was (George Washington’s) defensive pressure,” Vandy coach Kevin Stallings said. “I think it was important to them to play a good defensive game themselves. It paid dividends, because they were very sharp, especially in the first half.”
Rice scored three points on 1-for-9 shooting for George Washington, which won eight straight games and the Atlantic 10 tournament to earn its third straight NCAA bid.
But the Colonials’ formula of tenacious defense and high-scoring guards was a failure—and not just because of their 20 turnovers.
George Washington’s day even got off to a rocky start when the public-address announcer at Arco Arena gave an incorrect starting lineup that included sophomore forward Cheyenne Moore, who’s been out with a broken leg since October.
In truth, the Colonials should have been hoping to hear the names of Mike Hall and Pops Mensah-Bonsu—the departed stars who led their run to a 27-3 record and a No. 6 ranking last season.
After an awkward minute, the correct lineup got its introduction—but that group couldn’t score in the first 4:15, and didn’t get a field goal until Damian Hollis’ three-point play with 13:40 left. Rice and Elliott struggled to get open, and George Washington missed 15 of its first 17 shots.
“From the first 5 minutes in the game, it was just a matter of trying to survive,” George Washington coach Karl Hobbs said. “We fell behind quickly, and that pretty much put us on our heels.”
Byars was voted the Southeastern Conference’s top player by the league’s coaches, but the senior believes Vanderbilt’s tournament chances depend on the team play that allowed them to finish second in the SEC East behind Florida. The Commodores lost their last two games before the NCAAs—both to Arkansas—but regained their confidence with a strong week of practice.
Byars didn’t even need to score before hitting a turnaround jumper with 9:11 left in the first half early in a 15-1 Vanderbilt run.
“As well as we shot the ball, undoubtedly the key to the game was defense on our part,” Byars said. “We did a great job everywhere on the floor.”