Junior forward David Pellom headed to the line, spinning the ball in his hands.
After senior guard Tony Taylor missed the second of his two free throw shots, Pellom had leapt into action, pulling down the rebound and drawing a foul. Now, on a game where the Colonials shot just 61.9 percent from the stripe, Pellom had a chance with 27 seconds left to pull GW (10-18) ahead by four.
It was 52-50 GW. Pellom dribbled, stopped and shot. The ball sank through the net, and so did the second. Duquesne would make one more basket, but Pellom’s points cemented the Colonials’ 56-51 victory, followed by the junior slamming home a block that kept the Dukes from a key final basket.
“Throughout the game, we had been going to the line, making one, missing one. It was very frustrating. Coach [Kevin] Sutton asked me, when am I going to make two free throws in a row? I told him it would come down to the next time I got to the line,” Pellom said. “I went up there and knocked them down.”
Heading into the game, head coach Mike Lonergan knew it was important to displace Duquesne’s fast-paced, motion-oriented offense. The Dukes boasted the fourth-best scoring offense in the Atlantic 10, a dangerous opponent that had the ability to unleash the kind of crippling scoring run that’s proved to be GW’s undoing this season.
The Colonials showed consistency on defense Saturday afternoon, mainly staying in a man-to-man defense that saw GW tracking its Dukes opponents across the court. The cornerstone of GW’s defense was below the basket, where a Colonials big man – often graduate student forward Jabari Edwards – maintained a solid presence. It was GW’s defense that won the game, holding the Dukes to just 37.3 shooting on the day.
“I thought it helped us that we decided to start Jabari, just because they play four guards and [sophomore forward] Nemanja [Mikic] would have had to chase a guard out there, which isn’t his strength. And their only big guy they play doesn’t shoot threes. We had Jabari as a one-man zone and that really helped us clog things up,” Lonergan said. “We played hard. Usually if you outrebound a team and hold them to a field goal percentage of 37 percent, you have to play hard to do that.”
The solid effort centered around the play of Edwards, who slammed home four blocks that moved him into sixth all-time at GW, Pellom and junior forward Dwayne Smith, looked at to provide a solid presence under the net. Smith pulled down 11 boards, putting back nine points.
It was Pellom who exploded as a true difference-maker, adding his third double-double in a row with 10 boards and 11 points. The forward is the first Colonial to record three double-doubles in a row since Damian Hollis accomplished the feat during the 2007-08 season.
“Offensive end, being at the right place at the right time. And basically defense, just crashing the boards, coach has been emphasizing that,” Pellom said. “That’s where it comes from.”
The effects of GW’s crushing defensive presence were soon evident. The Colonials outrebounded the Dukes 42-21, taking control of play at the basket, and turning that into a 34-20 points in the paint advantage. With seven blocks on the day, as compared to Duquesne’s two, it was clear that the Colonials were dominant under the net.
It was a strength GW needed. A poor shooting team all season, the Colonials continued to slump today, their long shots faltering. As a team, GW shot just 8.3 percent from three on the day, the only trey coming with two minutes and six seconds to play from Mikic. That basket was key, further pushing GW ahead of the Dukes, but an indication of the Colonials’ failure to convert on long shots throughout the day.
“[Duquesne] did a solid job [on defense], but I think we just didn’t make shots,” Taylor said. “Honestly, we had a lot of open shots today and we just did not make shots. Dave and Jabari and Dwayne did a great job on the boards and that really helped us.”
With its shooting from long-range effectively silenced, GW needed to step up its production in the paint. Junior guard Lasan Kromah tied Pellom to lead the team in points, adding 11, and pulling down 4 boards. The Colonials shot 43.8 percent on the day, making up for their shooting struggles with hard drives to the net and a 16-7 edge on second-chance points.
Taylor was, as usual, a solid play-maker for GW, creating openings for his teammates and adding seven points with four assists. His role was lessened sophomore guard Dan Guest, who assumed the point guard position to give Taylor time to rest, or to step into a shooting guard spot. Guest played his best game of the season, adding four points, pulling down four boards and turning in a high-energy defensive performance that saw him snipe three steals.
“We’ve been playing three guards and today, [junior guard] Bryan [Bynes] for whatever reason was really struggling with the ball. So we gave Dan a shot and I give him credit, he’s been practicing better, and he played really hard,” Lonergan said. “The rebounding, diving on loose balls, I thought he really set the tone for us. And it got the team fired up.”
So yes, Lonergan admitted after the game, it wasn’t a perfect win. The team struggled with control, committing 15 turnovers to 11 assists. But last season, Duquesne forced the Colonials to turn the ball over 26 times, the result of their heavily pressing defense. Pellom’s heroics at the end of the game were necessary after late fouls, missed shots and a turnover allowed the Dukes to pull within one.
It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was a game where the Colonials played hard, Lonergan emphasized. At the end of a season where
GW hasn’t always brought its hardest effort to the court, to see the team play with such intensity today was heartening for its head coach. And it was important– without the Colonials knowing it, Fordham and Rhode Island victories on Saturday turned GW’s contest into a must-win as the team continues to seek a tournament berth.
“I felt pretty good after the game, after we won. I was happy for our guys walking downstairs, and when [athletics communications] told me Fordham and Rhode Island won, I felt like somebody punched me in the stomach. That was tough to hear, because I just wanted to clinch it,” Lonergan said. “It’s kind of like baseball. The magic number, I guess, was two, and now it’s one. We’ve got to win another one, or they’ve got to lose.”