The Colonials took the court Saturday afternoon with last season on their minds.
GW was facing Saint Joseph’s for the first time since the Hawks had stuffed an overtime-forcing rally in the Smith Center to oust the Colonials from the 2011 A-10 tournament.
It was the perfect setup for some revenge, payback for denying GW a trip to Atlantic City. Instead, in an unwelcome echo of last year’s loss, the Colonials saw another second-half rally squandered, the Hawks pulling ahead decisively for a 73-66 victory.
“Revenge was definitely on our minds. It was a heartbreaking loss last year and we really wanted to win today, just to get it back and put us in a better seed for the tournament. We just fell short today,” senior guard Tony Taylor said. “But revenge was definitely on our minds.”
Throughout the season, the Colonials (9-17) have struggled to string together two equally strong halves. That was the case again in the Smith Center Saturday, a discouraging first half effort sending GW into the break down 17, a significant hole that would prove too much later in the game.
The main culprit for the Colonials’ struggles was their shooting. Through the first nine minutes of play, the score was tight. Neither team could heat up at the net it seemed, trading missed shots and staying below double-digits halfway through the first. But a Hawks three broke through the stalemate, kickstarting a 14-0 run that saw GW held without a basket for five minutes. Head coach Mike Lonergan called two timeouts in that time, looking to break through the stagnant shooting, but by the time a layup from junior forward David Pellom finally put GW on the board again, the damage had been done.
“We’re down 19 points with four minutes left in the first half, it kind of felt like that time of year we were playing the Loyola, UAB, Bradleys of the world and just weren’t able to give effort for 40 minutes,” Lonergan said. “It was just a huge hole to dig against a really good team, and most of it was just, they were really just playing a lot harder than us.”
The root of the offensive slump was a familiar culprit for the Colonials: trying to fight through one-on-one attacks to the net. Before the half, GW had tallied just one assist, and lost the battle on the boards 21-11. En route to a 30.8 shooting percentage on the half, it was indicative of the team abandoning their offensive sets for solo drives.
“You take some bad shots, they’ve got a very good shot blocker, it leads to easy baskets by them,” Lonergan said. “We’re not the team where you try to go one-on-one. We don’t really have a lot of one-on-one guys outside of Tony. So I thought we took bad shots, usually when you take bad shots it leads to easy baskets for the other team.”
If effort was the culprit before the break, it was the theme of GW’s play in the second. The Colonials settled down offensively, finding their rhythm. The team dished out nine assists in the second, and became more commanding at the basket, fighting the Hawks for possession.
GW finished the second shooting 50 percent on the half, adding 46 points as it looked to rally from the first’s performance. It wasn’t enough to win the game, but it was an indication of the team utilizing its offense, Pellom and Taylor agreed after the game.
“We started executing a lot more. I thought we got in transition, we started playing a lot better defense. We got a couple stops that lead to some easy baskets,” Taylor said.
Determined to close the gap, the Colonials picked up their play on the defensive. Gone were the hesitant performances in the first that often saw a GW player trailing his man, just a few steps behind in the rush to the basket. Instead, the Colonials became more controlling, especially in transition. Saint Joseph’s was forced to whistle timeouts while trying to inbound, and other times were stripped in their own backcourt, GW running it in for a quick basket.
It was Pellom who was the most visible presence on defense for the Colonials. The team shifted between man coverage and a zone, but emphasized double- and even triple-teams that saw the Hawks trapped against the baseline. Pellom used his frame to stop Saint Joseph’s in its tracks, guarding closely down the stretch and taking control of the post. With junior forward Dwayne Smith struggling at the basket, stuffed by Hawks forward C.J. Aiken, Pellom seized the opportunity to meet the challenge head-on, grabbing 11 boards and netting 12 points for a double-double.
“My first couple of shots, it was just like Dwayne. Getting my shot blocked, I was thinking too much, going up, trying to head-fake. But after coach told me to play hard, go straight at the big dude, I just went to him and got baskets,” Pellom said.
GW’s enhanced second-half performance somewhat disrupted the flow and weave of the Hawks’ offensive front. The Colonials forced 14 turnovers, committing only six, including eight steals on the day.
The second-half rally, though, wasn’t enough to overcome the first-half Hawks run. Though GW pulled within four late in the second, ill-timed fouls gave Saint Joseph’s a commanding lead again. With the Hawks continuing to best the Colonials on the boards, 43-30, and shooting 44.8 on the game, it maintained a gap GW couldn’t fight through.
“Obviously, when you’re down 17, it’s a lot easier to motivate them at halftime. So we played a lot harder, and we had plenty of time, we had momentum, pretty good crowd today. When you cut it to four with four or five minutes left at least, and then we’re fouling 90 feet from the basket,” Lonergan said. “Just making some plays that weren’t very smart.”
Despite sitting with two fouls midway through the first, another contributing factor to the Hawks’ run, Taylor was the true backbone of GW’s offense Saturday. He led the team with 14 points, dishing out four assists and nabbing three steals in a performance that saw the guard continue to create plays and find openings for teammates until the final seconds of the game.
Junior guard Lasan Kromah added 13 points, and junior guard Bryan Bynes netted 10, including two treys, adding two steals on the day.
“I thought we did a lot of good things in the second half. Tony did a good job running sets and getting some easy layups for Lasan and some different guys,” Lonergan said. “I think Bryan was shooting eight percent from threes, and he hit two threes in the second half, and I’ll tell you what, it’s a lot easier to get back in games if you make some open threes.”
Still, no Colonial hit double-digits until the second half. Kromah added all of his points in the second, after a first half that saw GW’s starting lineup score only seven points, four of which were from Taylor. The Colonials couldn’t answer the hot shooting of Hawks guards Daryus Quarles and Langston Galloway.
It was a loss, Lonergan said, that had its roots solidly in the team’s first half play. It was a loss determined by effort.
“We’ve got three of our last five at home, it’s homecoming weekend, I never would have thought we wouldn’t have all the guys playing really aggressive and hard today in the first half,” Lonergan said. “You can’t be down 19 and expect to come back every game. That’s something that takes so much energy.”