GW men’s and women’s basketball programs are 43-5 at home since the beginning of last season.
By James Irwin
Jonathan Tsipis’ George Washington University women’s basketball team has won more games at home (23) and overall (37) than any other team in the Atlantic 10 dating back to the beginning of the 2013-14 season. The Colonials (23-4 at the Charles E. Smith Center in the last two years) have outscored their opponents by more than 20 points a game in those home victories.
“I think we have a lot of pride in holding a strong homecourt advantage,” Mr. Tsipis said of his team, which improved to 14-2 overall and 3-0 in the A-10 with a 77-67 home win Saturday over Richmond. “It doesn’t matter who comes in here—we have the belief that every time we step on the floor we have a good opportunity to win.”
Since the beginning of the 2013-14 season, the GW men’s and women’s basketball teams are a combined 43-5 at home.
His Colonials are one half of a basketball tandem with a near-perfect home record the past two years. Mike Lonergan’s men’s team (12-4, 2-1) is 20-1 at home since the beginning of last season. Of the 68 men’s teams that qualified for last year’s NCAA tournament, only 11 have a better home record than GW over the past 15 months.
The programs, in many ways, have been building together since Mr. Lonergan and Mr. Tsipis arrived on campus in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
“We feed off each other, we root for each other, we come to the men’s games and they come to ours,” junior forward Jonquel Jones said. “The way we’re playing, and the way they’re playing creates an atmosphere that’s conducive to winning."
Setting the tone at home
Success at home has been at the heart of a transformative two years for both programs. In 2012-13, GW’s basketball teams combined to finish 27-33. Midway through this season, they are 26-6. Thursday’s men’s game against Richmond will be televised on ESPNU, the first ESPN broadcast from the Smith Center since 2007. Season ticket sales are up 35 percent in the last three years, according to the athletics ticket office.
“I think the crowd has really helped us,” Mr. Lonergan said. “Our students have been great, and now we have more alumni coming—we’re even drawing on the road now.”
Some of the home victories for the men have been of the lopsided variety. Others have been statement wins, like last January’s 76-66 victory over Virginia Commonwealth University, played in front of a capacity crowd inside the 4,338-seat Smith Center. And there have been tough games that have demonstrated GW’s resolve, including Tuesday’s 75-72 win over St. Louis. That game, played during winter break and after the city’s first snowfall of the year, drew an intense crowd that roared to life as GW erased a 12-point second half deficit.
“There was a point in the second half where the crowd was really into it—really loud,” junior forward Kevin Larsen said. “We definitely fed off it.”
It is the energy of the fans and the intimacy of the arena, coaches and players have said, that has made the Smith Center—a concrete-and-glass enclosed gym with seating as close as a few feet from the court—among the toughest venues for opposing teams in the country.
“It’s a great place for basketball because of the atmosphere—the small stadium, you’re right on the court,” said GW Athletic Hall of Famer Jennifer Shasky Calvery, who played small forward from 1989-1993 and currently is a member of the university’s Athletic Advisory Council. “Having a great atmosphere at home builds on itself. It helps with recruiting because your recruits come in to visit and see how exciting a place it is to play.”
The ringleaders in the crowd are the members of the student-run Colonial Army, which has seen membership swell from less than 1,000 to more than 3,500 in the past three years. A few hundred students wedge themselves into Section 103 of the Smith Center for every home game—midcourt above the official scorer's table. Flags for each nation represented on the roster (Denmark, Japan, Argentina and the United States for the men; the Bahamas, Colombia and the United States for the women) hang from the front walls. The army never sits.
GW students, led by the Colonial Army, crowd into Section 103 of the Smith Center, behind the official scorer's table. (Photo courtesy of GW Athletics)
“It’s easy to pick us out,” said Tessa Bay, co-president of the Colonial Army. “It’s a totally different atmosphere than at larger arenas. The stadium is small, it’s very intimate, we’re leaning over the railing. It’s much more of a community atmosphere.”
When David Frank moved to D.C. 19 years ago, he adopted the Colonials as his local school, in part because of that game day environment. His family has had season tickets since the late 1990s.
With both teams idle until Thursday, he and the Colonials pivot into the second half of the season with NCAA tournament aspirations.
“Both teams are clicking at the same time, and the atmosphere here has been great,” Mr. Frank said. “I remember in the 2006 season when the men were ranked in the top 10, the players used to come and high-five my kids—they knew my kids by name. The players will tell you that they can hear you. When the place is rocking it gives them an extra bump.”