College students throughout the D.C. area including those located in and around George Washington's Foggy Bottom campus enjoyed the benefits of a snow day on Thursday. That's not how things work in the world of college basketball.
The schedule is set, a rigid one at that. For GW's men's basketball team, this particular stretch includes one upper level test after another. Despite arriving back from Richmond overnight after Wednesday's loss at VCU, the Colonials practiced on Thursday. No Breaking Bad marathons, no marathon sessions on the couch, not with the Massachusetts Minutemen set to invade the Smith Center on Saturday.
"That's fine. We don't mind that," point guard Joe McDonald said enthusiastically about firing up practice basketball shots instead of launching snowballs. "This is a huge game for us. We can't take any days off."
There is no hyperbole in calling Saturday's tilt [2 p.m., CSN] a huge game for the Colonials (19-5, 7-3). It's the second of four straight versus Atlantic 10 foes with winning conference records and the only home matchup. The next two in this stretch are on the road including at first place St. Louis. Any hope of winning the regular season title likely involves winning the next three games.
Winning the first of those three matchup means taking down a UMass (19-5, 6-4) squad that was ranked No. 13 in the AP poll earlier this season. It means slowing down guard Chaz Williams, who ranks third nationally with 7.4 assists. It means improving to 13-0 at the Smith Center.
"We have to take care of business at home," McDonald said. "That's been one of our major [goals] all year."
Good news there is the Colonials have dominated inside the Smith Center, winning 11 games by at least 10 points.
It certainly wasn't all positive in the 92-75 loss at VCU. GW fell out of second place and one game behind the Rams after committing 22 points and never rallying all the way back from a 21-point deficit.
However, the Colonials, playing without second-leading scorer Kethan Savage (foot) did indeed rally within 59-54 before VCU swung momentum back its way.
"We have too much character to lay down," said the 6-foot-1 McDonald, who finished with seven points and seven rebounds in the loss. "VCU did an excellent job, but it shows that even when we playing our best basketball we were able to be within striking distance,"
The former Landon product was quick to clarify, "we're not going to talk about moral victories." Part of last season's four-freshman starting lineup for a team that finished 13-17, McDonald recognizes the difference between simply trying hard and playing to win. He also understands conference wins and NCAA Tournament berths don't come easy.
"The injuries and things have been tough, but we just have to try find a way to get through it and adjust," said GW's leader in assists and 3-point shooting despite battling a hip injury all season.
Simply trying won't be enough to stop Williams. The 5-foot-9 senior speedster averages nearly 16 points per game and has at least six assists in nine straight A-10 contests.
"[Williams] does so much for his team. if we can find a way to shut him down and limit his production whether it's points or assists, then I think we can come out with a victory," McDonald said.
George Mason showed its Revolutionary Rival a potential road map on Wednesday. In their surprising 91-80 victory at UMass, the Patriots held Williams had to eight points on 3 of 15 shooting. After opening the season 16-1, the Minutemen have gone 3-4.
McDonald has his own game plan following two meetings last season. He posted his first career double-double with 16 points and 10 assists in a surprise win at UMass. Williams won the matchup and the rematch in the A-10 Tournament.
"I can shoot over him," McDonald said. "I'm definitely coming in confident knowing that I've had success against this team. It will be fun. I can't wait."
Playing in the snow, now that can wait.