There’s a lot hanging over the Colonials’ heads as they travel to Brooklyn for the first round of the A-10 championship.
No one on this squad of players has won an A-10 championship game. It’s the first A-10 tournament game on a neutral site for GW since 2007 – and competition is in the Barclays Center.
On top of that, GW relies partly on four freshmen, a group of starters that has gelled at times over the season, faltered at others. Head coach Mike Lonergan said nerves are inevitable, but added that they’re not just a burden for the Colonials’ freshmen to carry. Pressure, he said, extends across an entire roster.
“I think they feel pressure. Our first few minutes against Dayton, we were missing layups early. There was a lot of pressure, we knew we had to win the game,” Lonergan said. “This is new to a lot of our guys, being in the big games. We try to tell our freshmen,’ hey you’re not freshmen anymore, you’re sophomores.’”
The Colonials will face Massachusetts at 9 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of play. It’s an opponent GW narrowly defeated earlier this season, the team’s Atlantic 10 first road win.
It was also a matchup where freshman point guard Joe McDonald didn’t play like a rookie, tallying his first career double-double with 16 points and 10 assists, with only two turnovers. As the Colonials prepare to retake the court against the Minutemen, including their talented redshirt junior guard Chaz Williams, Lonergan said it will be important for all of GW’s players to bring their best performances to the court.
“We need some of our other guys to bring some energy. That’s what we had at UMass with [senior guard Lasan] Kromah, [senior forward] Dwayne [Smith] had a pretty good game. We’ll play hard, that’s one thing we can control, how hard we play,” Lonergan said. “Rebounding is going to be key. Some of the games UMass lost this year, reading [Massachusetts head] coach [Derek] Kellogg’s quotes, a lot of it was when they gave up a lot of offensive rebounds.”
At the back of GW’s minds, no doubt, is the potential the Atlantic 10 tournament holds. Win Thursday, and the team will face Temple at 9 p.m. Friday – an opponent that the Colonials were excruciatingly close to defeating earlier this year.
And as last year’s tournament shows, when St. Bonaventure won it all, any team has a chance to walk away with the conference title and an NCAA bid. But now, Lonergan said, GW’s focus is on Thursday’s tip.
“We’re taking one game at a time. We’re pretty young and inexperienced. But I think our team is confident,” Lonergan said. “We’re trying to win one game right now. That’s all we’re trying to do.”
This article was updated March 12, 2013, to clarify that Massachusetts was GW’s first Atlantic 10 road win in the 2012-13 season, not first overall road win.