This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Brennan Murray.
For those who only saw the 52-41 final score in the contest between GW and Georgia, it would have been easy to chalk up the game’s low point total to smothering defensive play on both ends. But those who followed the match at Stegeman Coliseum saw the turnovers that explained the Colonials’ (6-7) fall to the Bulldogs Friday night.
The Colonials’ shooting woes also could not be ignored. Fourteen total turnovers aside, GW shot only 24.6 percent from the floor and missed all 11 of their three-point attempts, including three in the final minute. Though head coach Mike Lonergan knows his team is not made for shooting treys, he said his players’ poor overall performance on the floor cannot become commonplace.
“There is no excuse to miss wide-open threes,” Lonergan said. “But we also took a lot of bad shots tonight. We forced a lot of things and that’s why our shooting percentage was so low. We just could not put the ball in the basket.”
In what could have been an opportunity for the Colonials to collect a signature victory against a tough non-conference team before heading into A-10 play, GW instead highlighted some of the offensive problems it has yet to overcome, including failing to establish a rhythm with the starters, not finding enough open looks and giving up too many generous turnovers.
Early on in the first half, both sides made it nearly impossible for themselves to put points on the board. Nagging turnovers on both sides prevented the Colonials and Bulldogs from sustaining any sort of offensive pace, never mind finding open looks from the floor. GW, often displaying a flex offense that saw Colonials maneuvering through tight spaces, looked out of sync. Two air balls and a pass that sailed directly out of bounds symbolized their difficulties.
But where the Bulldogs continued down the turnover road, finishing the half with 13 compared to the Colonials’ seven, GW began to emerge from their funk as their offense settled down and located shot opportunities.
Freshman forward Kevin Larsen, who was a bright spot within GW’s poor offensive showing, not only consistently found openings in the paint, but also showed off his touch with a made shot from the elbow. Six for six from the field overall, Larsen tallied nine points in the first half and finished the game by tying his career-high, 14.
Lonergan, who praised Larsen for his excellent post play, said the Colonials could have won if someone else on the roster complemented Larsen’s strong offensive performance. Lonergan noted that before the Colonials take on their next opponent, he might need to adjust the starting lineup to get more players scoring.
“We really needed someone else to score a few points for us,” Lonergan said. “We have to figure out what our best starting lineup is because we are not getting enough production from everyone. We’re gonna have to make some guys compete.”
Defensively, Lonergan showed Georgia a mix of zone and man-to-man throughout the match that worked well until about the final five minutes. Though the Colonials don’t typically play zone, Lonergan saw the Bulldogs’ season-long shooting drought as a chance to implement a spread out defense that could further aggravate their difficulties on the floor. It also served as a way to keep strong perimeter shooters yet weak man defenders on the floor for the Colonials.
Combining the zone with their usual aggressive man-to-man play, GW successfully stifled Georgia’s offense in the first half – that is, whenever the Bulldogs weren’t hurting themselves with turnovers first.
As the second half got underway, GW became more aggressive on offense, a trend symbolized by more common drives to the paint by players like freshman Patricio Garino and senior Isaiah Armwood. Despite more aggressive possessions, the Colonials struggled mightily to find the back of the net, which Lonergan attributed to an “off night” for his typically high-percentage shooters.
The Bulldogs began to take advantage of GW’s struggling offense as the half got deeper, scoring more than a few baskets in transition off missed shots and turnovers as well as finding new holes in the Colonials’ defense. Though the lead swayed back and forth and never topped five points on either side until the final two minutes, a burst of momentum for Georgia allowed them to take control of the game as the clock neared zero.
Unable to convert on three last-chance scoring opportunities from beyond the arc, GW was forced to foul, and ultimately fell by 11 points as time expired.
“We had nine turnovers in the second half in a close game. We had a little bit of a lead and kept throwing it away,” Lonergan said. “Combine that with some terrible shooting when they took our inside game away, and we just had a tough time.”
GW will host A-10 rival St. Bonaventure in the Smith Center on Jan. 9.