With five minutes and 57 seconds left to play in the second half, senior forward Dwayne Smith took a pass at the top of the key from senior guard Lasan Kromah and drained a three-pointer, giving GW its largest lead of the game, 10.
Indicative of his strong play throughout competition, it was the solid bench performance from Smith that sparked the Colonials’ offense in the second half and led them to the 76-67 win over visiting VMI.
“They came at us in a zone and did a good job against us forcing us to shoot from the outside where we weren’t having much success,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “Dwayne did a great job getting the ball to the foul line and just taking the ball to the basket and really scoring when we needed scoring,”
Even with a 10-point lead, VMI’s three point shooting abilities left a quick comeback as a lingering threat. GW’s defense stayed on its toes, allowing just one VMI trey in the remaining five minutes and ultimately holding the Keydets to 9-21 shooting from behind the arc – a step down for a team that averages 29 three-point attempts per game.
“We were trying to switch on a lot of screens just to take the three point line away from them and stay out on their shooters,” Lonergan said. “Their guards are small and we wanted to make them take contested threes.”
Though GW’s defense remained stingy throughout the course of the game, it was unclear at the start if their offense could take advantage of that success. The Colonials shot just 36.4 percent from the field in the first half. Their backcourt was a combined 2-13 shooting, exemplary of the Colonials outside struggles, as they went 0-7 from behind the arc in the first.
Despite this, GW still held a 35-29 lead at the half, most in thanks to the 10 points from senior forward Isaiah Armwood and the team’s consistent free throw shooting. The Colonials shot 84.6 percent from the line in the first half, and went on to go 19-22 for the game-a statistic Lonergan called the the difference-maker in the win.
With a renewed sense of energy and a want to find better shots, the second half became Smith’s show. Smith scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half off of 8-11 shooting, and added three rebounds for the game- all in just 12 minutes of playing time. His 18 points brought GW’s bench scoring up to 35 – its highest total of the season – compared to just 16 points for the Keydets. Smith’s secondary presence on the inside helped the Colonials dominate the paint, outscoring VMI 42-20 in that category.
Adding on to Smith’s success was the strong play of fellow senior forward Armwood- something that has come to be expected of him this season. Armwood ended the game with 18 points, going 6-7 from the free throw line and grabbing nine rebounds.
The great play from GW’s bigs, including forwards freshman Kevin Larsen and sophomore John Kopriva who finished with six points apiece, allowed the team to outrebound the Keydets 48-33 and put up 16 total second chance points.
“Our front court players did a good job wearing VMI down and scoring when we were struggling to shoot the ball from the outside,” Lonergan said.
The win snaps a three-game losing streak for the Colonials and gives them some positive thoughts as they move forward into an eight day holiday break. GW will take on Sacred Heart in their next game Dec. 30, just one of two games remaining before the start of A-10 conference play.