The stat sheet told the story of the game, head coach Mike Lonergan said in his press conference. The rows of numbers, black and white on the page, were the ultimate summary of a 65-56 loss to Mount Saint Mary’s that left fans shaking their heads and the Colonials (2-3) frustrated.
The game’s numbers didn’t lie, Lonergan pointed out. And they came from GW’s inability to shake off the intense pressure it found itself under.
“Their pressure won the game for them. That’s the long story short. Their pressure won the game for them,” senior forward Isaiah Armwood said. “They made us turn the ball over, so they were successful at what they did.”
The difference-maker was the Mount’s defense, a facsimile of the “havoc” approached used by VCU, born of head coach Jamion Christian’s time under Shaka Smart as a Rams assistant.
GW faltered under the pressure, failing to establish a solid transition game. It was a letdown that spread into all areas of the Colonials’ shooting, shaking the team’s confidence. And it was a pressure that stripped GW of the ball 25 times, an amount of turnovers that sapped the Colonials of any chance they had at establishing momentum or rhythm.
“There were so many things that broke our back,” Lonergan said. “And a turnover here and there, and then we got tired and they started taking us to the rim. And we don’t really have a shot blocker back there, except for maybe Isaiah.”
While the Mountaineers’ defense rattled GW, it served only to exacerbate the team’s already-present ball-handling challenges. Many of the night’s turnovers were avoidable, born of a Colonial player trying to be too flashy, to do too much.
“Some of it was created by their defense, but sometimes I felt like we were just handing them the ball,” Lonergan said. “I really don’t understand that.”
Without an effective transition game, and with its confidence taking blow after blow, GW couldn’t put together a cohesive attack.
The Colonials outsized Mount Saint Mary’s by a significant amount, and when the team was able to get it into the paint, the advantage showed. GW won the rebounding battle 32-24, and bested the Mount 42-20 on points in the paint. The team’s post play included more signs of improvement from freshman forward Kevin Larsen, who had 10 points, nine rebounds and four assists over 26 minutes of play.
“Hopefully Kevin will keep getting better,” Lonergan said. “He was 5-for-5 tonight and almost had a double-double.”
But though GW outmuscled its opponent in the paint, and had a 51.1 shooting percentage as compared to Mount Saint Mary’s 49.0 percent, the Mountaineers staked their victory on their ability to convert long shots.
The Mount nailed eight treys to GW’s three, putting a comfortable distance between the two teams at crucial points that could have turned the tide in the Colonials’ favor. And when GW got opportunities to overcome the deficit at the line, it failed to sink the free throws, ending just 8-of-17 from the charity stripe.
“The free throw shooting was a joke. In the second half, we’re 4-for-10, and at least one, we missed 1-and-1’s,” Lonergan said.
“They foul a lot,” he added. “But you’ve got to go to the line and make them pay, and we didn’t do that.”
Senior guard Lasan Kromah paced GW in points, adding 18, while Armwood put up a double-double with 15 points and 11 assists. But overall, it was a disappointing night for GW’s offense, though, Lonergan cautioned, the fault didn’t lie with freshman point guard Joe McDonald.
“I think we have a very good point guard. He didn’t have his best game tonight, that’s for sure, but he’s in a situation where he’s doubleteamed, and the guy’s man leaves, his teammate isn’t in the right spot, or coming back to the pass, it can really make you look bad as a point guard,” Lonergan said. “I feel bad for Joe. I don’t think guys went in the right spot for him tonight.”
Instead, Lonergan said, he’s left needing more from upperclassmen and GW’s bench. The veteran members of the Colonials, for the most part, were absent Monday night. Senior guard Bryan Bynes had six turnovers and zero assists, senior forward Dwayne Smith went 0-for-1 in four minutes of play, and junior forward Nemanja Mikic, too, was held scoreless.
It’s time to shake up his approach, Lonergan acknowledged, in hopes of lighting a fire under some of his veteran players.
“We’ve got to get Bryan and Nemanja in, and Dwayne, we’ve got to get them playing,” Lonergan said. “Maybe I’ve got to start them, that worked with Lasan, offensively at least. He’s played really well lately, I put him back in the starting lineup. Maybe I’ve got to give Dwayne a chance, because we didn’t get a lot out of him tonight.”
Perhaps the most important returning player, though, the one responsible for a large chunk of GW’s scoring, rebounding and energy last season, is senior forward David Pellom. And after being sidelined over the summer with wrist surgery, Pellom underwent a second surgery Monday afternoon that will put him out for an additional 4-6 weeks.
Lonergan, who didn’t say if the possibility of a medical redshirt for the rest of the year had been discussed, shook off the impact of Pellom’s absence. One player shouldn’t make or break the team, he said.
“It is what it is. He’s our best returning player,” Lonergan said. “Hopefully he’ll be back for the A-10 games. But we’ve got to go on like he’s not here.”