Walking around Washington DC on a chilly early-March day, there was a palpable buzz surrounding the #6 team in the nation. However, it was not Maryland or Georgetown causing the town to be abuzz, but a little school called George Washington. Yes, the team with the nation’s longest winning streak, sitting at 22-1, was GW.
I vividly remember the day of March 4th, 2006. The game was GW vs. Charlotte, the winner would claim the Atlantic 10 regular season title. The game itself ended in a Colonials victory, but how they got there is what gives this story the feel fairy tale.
GW began the season ranked 21st in the nation in both the AP and Coach’s polls, and cruised through four easy wins over Kennesaw State, Norfolk State, St. Francis (PA) and Boston University. They passed their first test with flying colors, a 78-70 win in the BB&T Classic over Maryland. The Colonials then won three more before receiving their only blemish of the regular season, a 79-58 loss at NC State.
Following this loss began an 18-game winning streak to close out the regular season. At the time, it was the longest winning streak in the nation. GW went 16-0 in the Atlantic 10, a feat never before, or since accomplished. At their peak in the rankings (in week 16), GW was ranked #6, five higher than eventual national champion, Florida.
Despite all of the records and hoopla, the game that truly gave this season the feel of a fairy tale was the game vs. Charlotte in the regular season finale. The Smith Center was sold out, and as loud as I can ever remember. As the game progressed, it became very physical and intense. In the words of the ESPN announcer: You know what we have here? We have the game of the century.”
The fact that a lot of people, including myself, tend to gloss over, is that GW nearly lost this game. Twice. The Colonials needed a last-second three from Maureece Rice just to send the game into overtime. Crisis temporarily avoided. However, GW looked on the brink of defeat in overtime when a technical foul was called on Leemire Goldwire for throwing an elbow at Mike Hall. Hall made both free throws to close the gap to just one point. Then came the moment that GW fans will never forget.
Down 85-84 with 3.2 seconds left, The ball ended up in the hands of freshmen, Noel Wilmore. Wilmore launched a fade-away three, the sailed long, where Carl Elliot swooped in to tip the ball in for the win. Then, pandemonium. Elliot came running down the floor, tearing off his jersey and flinging it into the air. Fans stormed the court, as the whole nation watched on ESPN (back in the days before ESPNU, CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network, etc.) as #6 George Washington celebrated a win for the ages.
The ride, however, was far from over. Despite a disappointing 65-53 loss in the A10 Quarterfinal, GW earned an 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament (the seed number is a rant for another day) and faced 9-seed UNC-Wilmington in the first round. That game in and of itself was amazing, as GW overcame a 64-46 deficit, propelled by a 19-0 run to send the game into overtime. The Colonials’ prevailed 88-85 to advance to play top-seeded Duke in the 2nd round. It was their first NCAA Tournament win in 12 years.
The season ended with a 74-61 loss to Duke in the 2nd round, and GW finished with an astounding 27-3 record. Though they had lost in the second round, it seemed as though George Washington still had had their “One Shining Moment.”
And so ended perhaps the best season in GW basketball history. True, this team did not have the same tournament run that the Yinka Dare team did, but with the top ten ranking, perfect conference record, and 27-3 overall record, there certainly is an argument to be made.
If you walk around the campus of George Washington today, and mention the names Hobbs, Elliot, Rice, Williams, Hall, etc. Colonials fans will tell you all you would ever want to know and more about that season. Maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder of this team, as GW endured eight years without a NCAA Tournament appearance until the 2014 season. But looking back on that season, I can hardly find the words to describe what it meant to each and every GW fan.
My dad called the season “magical.” GW called it “a season to remember.” But regardless of what you call it, this special team was one for the history books, and their legacy still carries on, 10 years later.