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Friday, June 14, 2013 10:00 a.m.

Jonathan Davis transfers to American

Jonathan Davis takes the Metro to the Verizon Center’s BB&T Classic when he was a freshmen. Davis will stay in D.C. after transferring to American. Hatchet File Photo

Former men’s basketball forward Jonathan Davis chose to stay in D.C. – transferring to American, according to his Twitter.

Davis will join an Eagles’ squad that went 10-20 last season in the Patriot League, and will be led by first-year head coach Mike Brennan, a former Georgetown assistant.

Davis was granted his transfer from the GW program earlier this March, though some speculated that he may return to the Colonials after not landing anywhere immediately.

Head coach Mike Lonergan said the decision came mostly out of Davis’ desire to have a bigger role in a program.

“With Jonathan, going into your third year, if you were ever going to go somewhere and play for them, you really had to make that move,” Lonergan said in March. “We’re going to be sad to lose him as a friend and a teammate for our players.”

Over his two years as a Colonial, Davis struggled to find his way into the rotation, grabbing minutes in just 23 games, while starting none. He leaves GW averaging o.4 points a game on 44.4 percent shooting and 0.3 rebounds per game.

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Junior forward David Pellom struggles to get to the basket during Wednesday's game against La Salle in the Smith Center. Michelle Rattinger | Senior Photo Editor

The ending of Tony Taylor’s Senior Night was shaping up to be the stuff of sports legends. Over the final two minutes of play, the senior guard dished out two assists that set up junior guard Lasan Kromah and junior forward David Pellom for back-to-back baskets. Then, he hit a jumper of his own that brought GW within a point of La Salle with 21 seconds left.

The Explorers hit a foul shot, pushing their lead back out to two. Again, the ball went to Taylor, the guard driving down the court to tie the game–but this time, his jumper didn’t fall. The next GW possession saw freshman forward John Kopriva trying to send a long pass down the stretch to Taylor, looking to get velocity on the pass that would set the senior up for another bucket.

Instead, the ball volleyed out of bounds, turning it back over to La Salle and cementing GW’s (10-19) 60-56 loss. And true to the humble, team-first mentality Taylor’s displayed throughout his tenure as a Colonial, the 21st-highest scorer in program history left the court after his last home game shouldering responsibility for the defeat.

“I was just upset that I missed that last shot to tie the game. Just upset for the rest of the seniors that we didn’t win this game, and the rest of the team. It’s tough to lose on senior night, or any night, at that,” Taylor said.

Emotion was running high out of the pregame Senior Night activities, the entire roster on its feet to honor Taylor, senior guard Aaron Ware, graduate student forward Jabari Edwards and walk-on senior guard Michael Conward (except for freshman forward Jonathan Davis, who didn’t dress due to illness). But the momentum soon shifted in La Salle’s favor, as the early moments of the half soon turned into a shooting contest. The Explorers holding GW at bay until they held a 10-point lead with seven minutes and 46 seconds left in the half- but by the half, the Colonials had pulled within five.

The same scenario unfolded as play opened in the second. The teams traded baskets, but La Salle was able to sink more, again leading by 10 at three different points on the half. Still, in their last home game of the year, the Colonials weren’t about to be counted out, scoring six points over 30 seconds to pull within one.

“I thought the effort was there. We started the game being outrebounded 11-4 and then we finished the game outrebounding them,” Lonergan said. “We just have so many breakdowns and it breaks your back. But we kept our composure, and I thought we made some good plays. We definitely struggled shooting the ball again, from threes.

The same scenario unfolded as play opened in the second. The teams traded baskets, but La Salle was able to sink more, again leading by 10 at three different points on the half. Still, in their last home game of the year, the Colonials weren’t about to be counted out, scoring six points over 30 seconds to pull within one.

But somehow, the rally fell flat, like it has so many times before this season. GW exited the court shooting 50 percent even on the game. It outrebounded the Explorers 33-24, exploiting its significant advantage in the post, and held a 12-5 advantage on second-chance points. It was a performance that should have resulted in more than the Colonials’ 56 points on the night, and the culprit was a familiar one.

“The ball wasn’t going in the basket, and it’s tough when that doesn’t happen. We made a couple of drives, and things, there was just a lid on the basket. And it was tough for us,” Taylor said.

Pellom lead the team in scoring, picking up his fourth consecutive double-double, an unprecedented feat, with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Pellom attributed his success to staying strong on the boards, calling that his “first objective” on the court.. The rest of his teammates didn’t fare so well: Ware and Kromah each added 10 points, the only other two Colonials to hit double-digits.

Aside from a team-wide shooting slump, La Salle’s shifting defense reduced GW’s effectiveness at the net. Its double-teams trapped the Colonials effectively, holding them without good looks as the shot clock ran out. Many times, a Colonial was forced to lob the ball toward the net in desperation as the buzzer sounded on the play. GW also struggled to hang onto the ball, turning it over 17 times.

“We wanted to focus on playing a little harder. At La Salle, it was probably one of our worst efforts of the season,” Lonergan said. “Tonight, we did a great job taking the threes away and guarding the three-point line. We held them to 60, but we have to find a way to score. “

Head coach Mike Lonergan walks off the court after the close game. The Colonials lost to La Salle 60-56. Francis Rivera | Assistant Photo Editor

The last time GW faced La Salle, the Explorers’ four-guard offense proved problematic to defend, and Galloway torched the Colonials for a career-high 28 points. Wednesday night, GW set up in a 1-3-1 zone, trying to apply pressure on the outside arc and high post against the A-10’s leading long-range shooting team. But though the Colonials held Galloway to nine points on the night, they couldn’t totally stifle La Salle’s offense.

The Explorers have started the same lineup in all of their Atlantic 10 games, and all of their starters average in the double figures. Wednesday, La Salle’s bench scored just a single point, their starting lineup responsible for the other 59. The four-guard setup remains a thorn in GW’s side, its head coach said.

“Truthfully, it’s a tough matchup for us,” Lonergan said. “They’re not used to guarding guards, and they’re playing four guards at all times.”

Even as the Colonials walked away from the loss, they had cemented a longer season: by virtue of a Fordham loss at Rhode Island Wednesday night, GW earned a berth in the A-10 tournament. With final seeding to be determined as the regular season closes Saturday, Lonergan still believes his team has the potential to turn its season around during postseason play.

“Tonight, we have a tough loss and then we find out that we made it. It’s kind of a strange way to get in, and I’m happy we’re in,” Lonergan said. “The guys are working hard in practice, we’re improving in some areas, we just have to find a way to get more than 56 points up there on the board.”

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Tony Taylor, win, Dayton

Then-junior guard Tony Taylor celebrates after his team's 60-58 win over Dayton last season. | Hatchet File Photo

Tony Taylor, Jabari Edwards and Aaron Ware definitely aren’t camera-shy. In preparation for tomorrow night’s Senior Night festivities, the three seniors can be seen in outtakes from the videos that run during games in the Smith Center this season.

It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the in-game entertainment, and one that shows a more playful side to the men’s basketball team before they buckle down for a crucial conference game against the Explorers.

The video can be seen on the George Washington University Colonials Facebook page.

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Graduate student forward Jabari Edwards leaps to vie for a rebound in Wednesday night's game at Temple. Elizabeth Traynor | Hatchet Staff Photographer

The Colonials were stunned.

Some of the players looked at the floor. Others had their heads in their hands. Members of the coaching staff slowly shook their heads. On the court, the five GW players in action watched the seconds tick away.

Stunned. Just five minutes ago, the team had been poised to pull off a stunning upset of Temple, the first-place team in A-10 standings. But the buzzer sounded instead on a 79-72 Colonials (8-16) loss. What happened, the team was left wondering. What happened during that collapse?

“I had a lot of faith in my team. I thought we were going to pull it out. Everybody was playing so well, everybody was playing hard, everybody was engaged,” senior guard Tony Taylor said. “We just had a lot of mental mistakes at the end. I’m just really disappointed in myself that I couldn’t help my team.”

When the Colonials boarded their bus to Philadelphia Tuesday, the odds were stacked against them. Temple sat atop the A-10 rankings, while GW was vying for tenth place in a three-way tie with Charlotte and Richmond. The Owls boasted the best shooting percentage in the league, making an average 47.5 percent of their shots from the field, and were second in the A-10 in three-point shooting, at 40.2 percent.

On top of that, Temple was riding a six-game winning streak. GW was entering the game looking to snap a four-game losing streak, and had yet to win a road game in the Atlantic 10. On paper, it didn’t seem like there was much for the Colonials to be optimistic about. But those facts were motivation for the team entering the Liacouras Center.

“Everybody really realized that we were playing against the top team in the A-10 and we wanted to come out and just play hard and put on a show and win this game,” Taylor said. “We knew that if we won this game it would be a big statement.”

The Owls won the tip, and scored two baskets in quick succession to jump out to an early 4-0 lead. But then, junior forward Dwayne Smith decisively slammed home a rebound off senior forward Aaron Ware’s missed jumper. The bucket put GW on the board, and lit a fire under the team.

By the end of the first, GW was shooting 56.7 percent from the field, complimented by 42.9 percent shooting from three-point range. Much of their offensive success was due to a renewed presence below the net, the team boxing out, leaping, stuffing Temple en route to a 18-16 rebound advantage, a 10-point advantage in points in the paint and a twelve-point lead at halftime.

Backing up the Colonials’ offense was a dominant defense, one that pressured the Owls with a  1-3-1 zone and held Temple to just 32.1 percent shooting on the first half.  Smith used the setup to his advantage, besting the Owls under the net at both ends of the court. He posted 14 points, four boards and two assists on the night, scoring inside with his back to the basket and turning around to be GW’s true presence inside.

“I was basically trying to build off of my last game, off UMass. Coach made it clear that I’m a good scorer down the low post, so I was just building off of that. And a little bit of luck and little bit of hard work paid off,” Smith said.

The zone proved particularly effective along the perimeter, Temple only able to post a 28.6 shooting percentage from long-range. The Colonials ran the scheme mainly to capitalize off of the absence of Owls senior guard Juan Fernandez, head coach Mike Lonergan said, sidelined towards the end of the first with foul trouble.

But while the zone was effective, its primary purpose was to conceal what would eventually become the undoing of GW: Taylor, too, was in foul trouble.

“We were lucky they had their point guard in foul trouble. Ours was in foul trouble,” Lonergan said. “We were trying to do that to hide Tony’s foul trouble. When [Fernandez] is in the game, he just picks you apart.”

Two minutes out of the break, Taylor was whistled for his third foul. At the time, it didn’t seem to matter. The Colonials had a solid lead, and were scoring well. Undeterred by missed jump shots and three attempts, GW made up for it at the rim, pushing in layups that extended the lead to 14 points.

Slowly, though, the Owls crept back in. First, it was Taylor’s fourth foul, one that sent him to the bench for a long period of time. When he was joined there by junior forward David Pellom, also with four fouls, Temple began its climb out of the hole.

Taylor couldn’t sit on the bench forever. With seven points and six assists, he was the key piece to GW’s offense, the force that all else rested upon. And so, with six minutes and 38 seconds to play, Taylor was sent back into the game. Less than a minute later, he was whistled for his fifth foul.

“It’s not the referee. I don’t care if it’s clean, you don’t reach in on your third or fourth foul,” Lonergan said. “That’s something he’s got to learn from. That killed us.”

It was a costly call, and one the Colonials could ill afford to have to against them. Once Taylor was subtracted from the lineup, the wheels seemed to come off the team, slowly at first, and then everything ran together, bad play after bad play crashing into one another on GW’s slide down.

The Colonials clung to a slim three-point lead when graduate student Jabari Edwards leapt up for a board, grabbing it, coming back down­­– and handing it over to the Owls, who converted for two points, taking the lead.

Junior guard Bryan Bynes releases a jumper that will fall shy of the net, while Edwards waits for the rebound under the basket. Elizabeth Traynor | Hatchet Staff Photographer

It was a lead Temple wouldn’t again relinquish, stepping up its shooting to 51.9 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from three, using a 22-5 run over the final five minutes to pull out the win. And it was a lead the Colonials handed to the Owls when the team’s drive and energy exited the court with Taylor.

“I couldn’t believe what was happening, really,” Lonergan said. “I knew they would make a run and turn up the heat, but I mean, we were just throwing it. We had a guy wide open for three, we were throwing it to the other team. All of a sudden, everybody had a part of it that was out there.”

When a team hits its stride offensively, it tends to get re-energized on defense, and that was the story for Temple. A more heavily pressuring defensive front increased the game’s physicality, fast, and GW had no answer, playing an increasingly tentative game.

The Colonials’ shots began to struggle. Missed layup after missed layup mounted, and even junior guard Lasan Kromah, who lead the team with 22 points, and Pellom, who had 10, could convert. With decreased shooting came more limited ball handling capabilities, GW stacking up eight turnovers.

What happened to the Colonials, Lonergan said, was panic.

“We couldn’t handle the ball. We had a lot of guys that were having great games and then, all of a sudden, they just panicked offensively. Key turnovers, where we threw the ball inbounds right to the other team,” Lonergan said. “We were panicked. That’s a situation where we’re a much better team with Tony in the game.”

It was a loss that exposed the Colonials’ lack of depth, and one that showed how the team’s confidence is shaken by subtracting just one player from its roster. The mood was subdued as GW prepared to head back to the District.

Now, Taylor said, the Colonials are growing impatient.

“We’re looking for anything right now,” Taylor said. “We’re a desperate basketball team trying to win games.”

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Sophomore forward Nemanja Mikic is congratulated by his teammates for his impressive play during the final seconds of the game. Michelle Rattinger | Senior Photo Editor

For the Colonials, two games made a world of difference.

Individually, GW’s back-to-back home contests saw a few slumping players shake their stalls, returning the court with reinvigorated effort characteristic of seasons past. Collectively, the matchups against Richmond, and now Charlotte, saw the team come together as one, playing a complete, full-court effort previously lacking.

And in the rankings, the Colonials’ (8-11) victories over Richmond and Saturday night’s 60-52 win against the 49ers bumped the team to a tie for fourth place in the Atlantic 10, just one game out of first. The two contests didn’t only maintain GW’s undefeated league record at home on the season, they gave the Colonials a winning record in A-10 action.

“We’ve always been on the same page. Things may be different, and people can talk about transition, or system, or the flex, to me, that’s a lot of garbage. We’ve got a system we believe in,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “I’m happy for our guys. We played great D, we overcame horrible free throw shooting and we got a very important home win today.”

Against Richmond Jan. 18, it was junior guard Lasan Kromah who emerged as the team’s star, tying his career high and displaying the sort of tight, impressive game that made him a standout player his freshman season. But facing the 49ers, it was sophomore forward Nemanja Mikic’s time to return to form.

After leading all Division I freshman in three-point shooting last season, Mikic struggled to echo his rookie performance this season. But things clicked for the sophomore Saturday night, draining three treys and adding 19 total points, leading all scorers and setting a new season high. It was a performance that showcased how the forward’s skills have developed this season: though he found success from long range, he hit baskets from all areas of the key. Mikic scored 11 points in the second half alone, adding seven during GW’s crucial 12-3 run.

“It feels great,” Mikic said. “Last year, I was only a three-point shooter, but this year, the goal was to help me become a better basketball player. I think it helps me a lot. I became a little more versatile, and in general a better basketball player.”

Mikic credited his teammates for putting him in the right place at the right time, and GW’s 13 assists were a sign of the play-making that gave the forward his timely opportunities. Kromah was the next-highest scoring Colonial, adding nine points and six boards, grabbing three steals, followed by senior guard Tony Taylor, who put up eight points, four rebounds and five steals. At one point, Taylor was sidelined for a good portion of play with foul trouble, and junior guard Bryan Bynes stepped up in his absence, posting eight points, three boards and three assists – including a three-pointer of his own.

After the Colonials scored the opening four points, Charlotte came roaring back, leading by as much as 12 points on the first. GW’s shots weren’t falling, the players were visibly frustrated, and it bore the hallmarks of the snowballing breakdowns that had doomed the team earlier in the season.

But this time, the Colonials remained focused, closing the gap to three points by halftime. And after the break, GW never looked back, recording 39.6 percent shooting from the floor on the game. It was the sort of surge the team hadn’t been able to execute in previous matchups, and it’s evidence of a gameplan finally clicking, Lonergan said.

“Well, we were up 4-0 and the next thing I knew, it was 11-4. Truthfully, we had kind of that look when we had that four-game, or whatever it was, losing streak at home. And we tried to call timeouts, tried to put some different guys out there, and I thought it was huge that we made a run late in the first half,” Lonergan said. “I felt really good going into the half, we were only down three. And then it was important for us to score right away to start the second half, because we really get our energy defensively when we’re scoring.”

It wasn’t the Colonials’ most dominant offensive performance, but it was backed by one of the team’s strongest defensive games of the season. After allowing Charlotte the early lead, including one point where the 49ers recorded around 50 percent shooting from the floor, GW buckled down defensively, holding Charlotte to 36.7 shooting on the game.

Mikic maneuvers his way around three Charlotte defenders during the first half of the Saturday game in the Smith Center. Michelle Rattinger | Senior Photo Editor

The Colonials switched from a zone defense to a 1-3-1, a risky maneuver considering the 49ers’ depth from deep, but a necessary chance, Lonergan said, in order to stop Charlotte forward Chris Braswell, who added 17 points on the night. All night, the team utilized their defense to the fullest, shaking off any hints of poor shooting with renewed energy at the other end of the court.

“It was really to stop Braswell. Braswell was killing us, and I give him credit, he was going one-on-one from the top of the key, we didn’t think he was capable of that. And he was really scoring,” Lonergan said. “We went to the 1-3-1, even though they’re a good three point shooting team, to keep him from really scoring. And with Lasan up top, it gives you a lot of length, and Nemanja on the wing, and we did a pretty good job of that.”

The last two matchups saw junior forward Dwayne Smith and senior forward Aaron Ware join GW’s starting lineup, a new reshuffling of the Colonials that added a strong physical edge to their starting five. Looked to for commanding defensive play, Smith and Ware rose to the challenge, pulling down seven and 10 boards, respectively (a career high for Ware). The Colonials owned the total rebound battle 41-36, using a 12-4 advantage on second-chance points to boost their lead, and clearing the paint effectively all night.

Frustrated, Charlotte’s play took a decidedly physical turn, sending the Colonials to the line 25 times. Though at times play was heated and tension visible, GW remained calm, keeping their focus amid the 49ers’ increasingly desperate play. They couldn’t, however, fully take advantage of the opportunities at the charity stripe, shooting just 52.9 percent from the line, a downfall that’s haunted GW all season.

“At the beginning of the game they tried to bump us off our cut to the screens, stuff like that,” Kromah said. “We took advantage of that and attacked back.”

Next, the Colonials are back on the road, traveling first to La Salle Jan. 25 and then heading to Fordham Jan. 28. Lonergan outlined clearly the need for the team to build on its recent successes at home on the road, knowing GW needs to carry its momentum to Philadelphia and New York.

His players agreed, and both Kromah and Mikic echoed their coach on another sentiment. The team’s recent successes isn’t a sign that at one point, the coaching staff and the players were on different pages. It’s a sign that the Colonials’ approach is working.

“We were always on the same page, it’s just more chemistry and everybody gelling together and just us executing the plays,” Kromah. “We’re in about 18, 19 games now, and everything is just gelling and going good. It’s just timing.”

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Senior guard Tony Taylor drives past Bradley players toward the basket earlier this season. | File Photo

On the heels of a two-game road trip to open league play that saw the Colonials fall to both St. Bonaventure and Saint Louis, head coach Mike Lonergan and his team return to the Smith Center to host Rhode Island Wednesday night.

It’s the first conference match at home this season for GW, and Lonergan is determined to build upon the play his team exhibited on their road trip. Though they lost two games to strong opponents, Lonergan said, GW’s travels weren’t without positives, highlighting improved defensive play from sophomore forward Nemanja Mikic and a newly strong first-half effort against Saint Louis.

Another positive for the head coach was junior forward David Pellom’s offensive play. After shaking the off-the-court issues that Lonergan said hurt the forward earlier this season, he’s been putting up the kind of numbers Lonergan is looking for, earning Pellom a starting slot against Rhode Island.

“He’s probably going to start Wednesday. He’s obviously scoring, mostly the dunks and layups, but he’s done a great job with that,” Lonergan said. “He’s got to make defensive rebounds more of a priority, [but] he deserves to start right now.”

In addition to building on the trip’s positive aspects, Lonergan intends to work hard in the coming days to address the holes the two league plays exposed in his team’s play. One, he said, is effort, pointing to GW’s poor rebounding performance against Saint Louis, where they were beaten on the boards 21-10 in the second half alone.

Another lacking area is the Colonials’ shooting, which Lonergan called “awful.” The team struggles at the basket without a solid offensive rhythm, he said, underlined by disappointing performances from veteran players who should be leading the team. Lonergan pointed to senior forward Aaron Ware and junior guard Lasan Kromah as two player who put up solid numbers at earlier points on the season that are now struggling to add any offensive weight to GW’s attack.

“We’re just so inconsistent,” Lonergan said. “That’s the most disappointing thing. We have experienced players and we’re not sure what we’re going to get game-to-game from them.”

GW’s poor offensive performance often carries over to the defensive side of play, its coach said. When the Colonials aren’t scoring, Lonergan said, their effort at the other end of the court slides, as well.

Adding to that challenge is the players’ defensive inexperience, Lonergan said. His defense-first style is new to the Colonials, and the change in game plan is evident on the court.

“I think some guys are giving the effort, I ust think some of the guys have never played defense in their life. Some of them don’t know how to play defense,” Lonergan said. “The problem with defense is, if one guy breaks down, there’s not much the other guys can do about it.”

As the Colonials prepare to host the Rams Wednesday night, with tip set for 7 p.m., Lonergan sees the coming days of practice as a chance to use a less-than ideal opening road trip as true learning opportunity for his team.

“We’re coming off a two-game road trip where we lost both games to pretty good opponents,” Lonergan said. “There are some positives,  but we have to get a whole lot better, that’s for sure.”

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Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011 10:09 p.m.

Bradley bests Colonials by a point

Senior Aaron Ware aims at the net during Thursday's home game against Bradley University. Francis Rivera | Assistant Photo Editor

Senior forward Aaron Ware spun around, motioning for a timeout as soon as the ball hit his hands.

The Colonials were down by a single point to Bradley with 21 seconds on the clock. Head coach Mike Lonergan quickly drew up a play that was supposed to give senior guard Tony Taylor a “heck of a downscreen,” sending sophomore forward Nemanja Mikic and freshman forward John Kopriva into the game for junior guard Bryan Bynes and junior forward Dwayne Smith.

But as the shot clock drained, GW couldn’t run the play Lonergan envisioned. Taylor circled the baseline, looking for an open shot until he was forced to lob the ball in desperation, shooting just wide of the net as junior guard Lasan Kromah made a last-ditch effort to push the ball in.

The buzzer sounded, and the Colonials left the Smith Center with a 67-66 loss to the Braves.

“It’s obviously a heartbreaking loss,” Lonergan said. “Became a very close game late, thought we were in good position, had a timeout, ran a play for our best player and we just did not execute the play correctly. Did not screen for Tony and he was forced to take a tough shot.”

It was another night where shooting troubles plagued the Colonials (4-6). Going just 41.4 percent from the floor, GW again couldn’t establish a solid, dependable rhythm. Rushed looks lead to many Colonial shots bouncing off the rim, or finishing just wide of the net, and the team ended the night shooting just 29-for-70.

The shooting struggles followed the Colonials beyond the arc. Once the team that boasted the highest three-point percentage in the nation, GW’s struggled from the perimeter of late. Thursday night’s play was no exception, the Colonials shooting just 20.0 percent from three-point range. GW also missed easy points at the line, going just 6-for-13 on free throws on the night.

“We’re struggling to make easy shots. Missing free throws, wide-open three pointers,” Lonergan said. “I’m not going to yell at guys for missing shots, but we ran a great play, our best shooter, wide open three, those are plays you can’t get back.”

Though the battle at the glass was even, GW maintaining a slight 40-32 edge, the Colonials were decidedly dominant in the paint. They bested the Braves in points the paint, 42-26, and took a commanding lead in second chance points, 23-8. Ther were statistics born of the Colonials’ commanding offensive glass presence, owning a 21-9 advantage in offensive boards.

GW’s inability to capitalize off of those opportunities, Lonergan said, was troubling, but even more problematic for the head coach is the team’s inability to create shots for Taylor. Lonergan openly refers to the guard as GW’s best player, and Taylor rarely finds the ball in his hands after dishing out a pass for a good look. The senior had 11 points and three assists on the loss, and Lonergan said it’s time for the other Colonials to focus on finding Taylor instead of taking shots.

“We’ve got to understand that we’re trying to run some plays for Tony, we’ve got some guys forcing shots. And I don’t think it’s selfishness, I just think that guys lose their composure out there,” Lonergan said. “We’ve just got to get more consistent. We’ve got to get five guys playing at the same time. I feel bad for Tony, because you want to put the ball in your best player’s hands, you know, I’m not throwing anybody under the bus, but it wasn’t his fault. We didn’t execute the play.”

In a breakdown that’s become characteristic of GW this season, the team couldn’t supplement its shaky offensive performance with a solid defensive stance. Problems from the perimeter followed the Colonials down the court, the Braves maintaining their foothold in the game with a 50.0 shooting percentage from beyond the arc, draining four treys in each half.

Bradley shot an even 50 percent from the floor on the night, despite grabbing just nine offensive boards. The Colonials ran an aggressive man-to-man defense for most of the night, but couldn’t contain the Braves’ scrappy offense, many Bradley players getting shots off despite outstretched GW hands. The team tried to switch to a zone defense, but couldn’t find a solid solution to stop Bradley.

Head coach Mike Lonergan watches with frustration as the Colonials struggle to prevail over the Bradley Braves' slim lead during the final seconds of Thursday's game in the Smith Center. Francis Rivera | Assistant Photo Editor

“We’re allowing the best players to beat us. I think we have to have the mindset, my man’s not scoring. The game’s on the line, my man’s not going to score,” Lonergan said.  “They made the plays, I mean basketball’s a pretty easy game, we gave the effort, but the stats don’t lie.”

The most commanding presence defensively for the Colonials was graduate student forward Jabari Edwards, who slammed back six blocks on the night. Edwards played 29 minutes, but didn’t start the game for the first time this season, pulled in favor of Smith, who added six points and six rebounds.

Edwards wasn’t the only lineup change- junior forward David Pellom, the leading GW scorer over the past two games, was benched with a one-game suspension, the result of an athletics department rules violation. Lonergan didn’t comment further on the specifics of Pellom’s suspension, but alluded to “too many distractions around our program.”

“What they do on and off the court matters. That’s what championship teams are about and that’s what winning programs are about. We’ve got to get rid of all the distractions,” Lonergan said. “We have enough talent, and we have one great player, and I have to do a better job of making him play great, and his teammates have got to help him as well.”

Kopriva added 12 points, two rebounds and an assist for the Colonials, an indication that Kopriva is GW’s best post player, Lonergan said. Kromah added 10 points, dishing out seven assists and grabbing seven boards, but it was Ware who stepped up to pace the Colonials offensively.

Coming off the bench, Ware posted 13 points, grabbing four boards and a steal. Many of his shots came through heavy pressure, Ware driving to the net unrelentingly and making baskets through double-teams. The forward likes playing off the bench, he said postgame, enjoying the pressure to “bring it” each time he steps on the court- but even he was taken aback by the prospect of leading GW in points.

“I mean, I scored 13 points, I can honestly say if I’m leading the team in scoring we’re probably not going to win the game,” Ware said. “I just try to be consistent. We’ve just got to get Lasan more shots, got to get Tony more shots. I think that’s going to be some carry-over to the next three games we have.”

Senior guard Tony Taylor drives past Bradley players in the paint towards the basket. Francis Rivera | Assistant Photo Editor

The loss to Bradley is the latest in a five-game slide for the Colonials, a skid Lonegan wants to stop quickly.

In its next three games, GW takes the court at home. As Lonergan stood up from the press conference table Thursday night, flanked by Taylor and Ware, all three shared the same thought: it’s time to work harder to capitalize on the home stand.

“I’m disappointed. I hate losing. We had the ball, and I thought we were going to come away with a nice little win,” Lonergan said. “We play a tough schedule and we’re trying to get better. Sure, I wish we were 6 and 4 right now, that’s for darn sure. But it’s a process.”

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Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011 11:13 p.m.

Colonials crushed in Carrier Dome

SYRACUSE, N.Y.- At halftime, head coach Mike Lonergan looked at the Colonials and told them they were likely playing the No. 1 team in the country.

Junior guard Lasan Kromah leaps to halt Syracuse senior forward Kris Joseph's drive to the net. Elizabeth Traynor | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Ranked at No. 3 (ESPN/USA Today) entering Saturday night’s match, Syracuse will likely move up two slots Monday after top-ranked Kentucky and No. 2 Ohio State were both defeated. The Orange were GW’s most challenging opponent this season, and Lonergan told his team to embrace it, and use the match as a learning experience.

Roughly 30 minutes later, standing in the hallway of the Carrier Dome after the Colonials’ 85-50 loss to Syracuse, Lonergan still felt the same way.

“I told them that Ohio State and if Indiana was going to win, they were up one at the half, I said ‘we’re playing the number one team in the nation tonight, so take advantage of it, try to keep loose, go out there and enjoy it,’” Lonergan said. “I’m still glad we play these games. I hope that at least playing some of the top teams in the country, Kansas State and Cal and this team, that it will toughen us up.”

The learning experience started early for GW on the road trip- customary starter senior guard Tony Taylor and senior forward Aaron Ware were both benched for the start of play. Taylor didn’t start, checking in after five minutes, and Ware didn’t play until there were just five minutes and 40 seconds left on the first half.

The two were benched for a violation of team rules, Lonergan said, declining to go into specifics. It was a lesson they needed to learn, he added, and said all involved would move on after tonight’s game.

“They broke a team rule and we take our rules seriously and that was their punishment,” Lonergan said. “We’ll move on, and if there’s any other violations, the next punishment will be a little more severe. But it’s over.”

But the two seniors’ disciplinary action was a momentary footnote during play. It was Syracuse’s strong 2-3 zone that dictated the tone of the game, commanding the space in front of the net to shut the Colonials down offensively. Time and again, GW looked to cut to the basket, but couldn’t get around their Orange defenders, trapped by physical limitations against a much larger Syracuse team and contained by the zone. It limited Lonergan’s preferred, motion-reliant flex offense, stopping GW from establishing any sort of presence in the paint.

The Colonials were held to just 30.6 percent shooting from the floor, it’s lowest percentage of the season, going just 19-for-62. To beat the zone, GW would have needed to find holes in its coverage, and heat up from the perimeter. But the Colonials were stopped on many drives to the net, out-blocked 8-2, and couldn’t find success from long range, shooting just 16.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Most telling was the disparity of points in the paint- the Colonials scored just 30 to Syracuse’s 52. GW’s shooting was clearly shut down by the Orange’s defense, Lonergan said, but he also pointed to the Colonials’ recent challenges at the basket. The team’s struggles weren’t solely a result of Syracuse’s play, Lonergan said, but remain the same lack of offensive identity displayed all season.

“We didn’t make shots and we turned the ball over. They make you take shots, but the few good shots we got, we didn’t make them. You’re not going to be able to stay in the game with them if you don’t make good shots,” Lonergan said. “It was disappointing because I thought [sophomore forward] Nemanja [Mikic] actually got some good looks. He is our best shooter and just didn’t go in again. It’s time for those shots to start dropping for us.”

GW’s starting rotation slumped Saturday night, making just six total baskets. Instead, it was again junior forward David Pellom who stepped up for the Colonials, adding 12 points and seven rebounds off the bench to pace GW’s attack. It was the second such game in a row for Pellom, and Lonergan said it would “probably” earn the junior a starting berth in GW’s next match.

Pellom pointed to another statistic when examining his status as the Colonials’ leading scorer on the night: rebounding. From day one, the forward said, Lonergan has emphasized rebounds as a key piece of GW’s play. Tonight, the Colonials outrebounded the Orange on the loss, 42-38,  with freshman forward John Kopriva leading the way at the glass with eight rebounds. Lonergan also pointed to Mikic’s five rebounds, calling his team’s play on the glass “one positive,” and Pellom said it was that type of unrelenting presence at the boards, despite the loss, that enabled his success.

“It’s my third year, so I just came in and thought it was about time for me to step it up,” Pellom said. “It was a little frustrating, but I just kept my cool, just kept fighting, fighting to get the rebound or trying to fight for position and get the ball.”

Senior guard Tony Taylor was silenced on the night, adding just five points and dishing out five assists. Junior guard Lasan Kromah added 10 points for the Colonials, despite going just 3-for-13, tied by junior forward Dwayne Smith, who came off the bench for ten points and five boards.

Smith’s main surge came in the second half, when he netted all but one of his points, including seven in a row for GW. Smith, too, emphasized to the importance of capitalizing rebounds when speaking about his performance. But the forward, known last year for his gritty play, also talked about his abilities as a slasher as crucial against Syracuse. In a game where the Orange so tightly controlled the inside, he said, it was a constant fight to simply drive to the net.

“It was really tough to score in the second half,” Smith said. “Syracuse’s defense is really, their guys are long and in our face, so it was hard to score in a 2-3 zone. My slashing ability was important, I was able to contribute in the second half.”

Graduate student forward Jabari Edwards tries to block a Syracuse shot. Elizabeth Traynor | Hatchet Staff PhotographerSmith and Pellom’s contributions weren’t enough to make up for Syracuse’s offensive attack. The Orange used their press to create a balanced scoring attack, rotating the ball before overpowering the Colonials on their drives to the net.  12 players scored for Syracuse, the team earning 48 points off the bench.

The Orange shot an even 50 percent from the floor Saturday night, supplemented by besting the Colonials in points off turnovers, 34-3, and on fast breaks, 26-12.  It was an example of the team’s domination at both ends, Lonergan said. The Colonials attempted to halt the Orange’s attack, at time switching to a shifting zone defense, but couldn’t contain Syracuse’s shooting.

“They were killing us in transition and certain things so we played a little zone, got away with it for a little while,” Lonergan said. “The problem with the zone is a lot of guys rest in the zone so they made a couple ball reversals, got some wide open threes and they hit them. They’re not normally a great shooting team, but they hit some threes and that makes it very difficult to come back.”

The Colonials next host Bradley Dec. 15, and as they enter a four-game home stretch, Lonergan wants them to use the lessons from a four-game losing streak to turn their play around.

“My hope is it’ll toughen us up. We’ve taken a couple of beatings now, and we’ve got a chance to play some home games. We really have to get better as a team, soon, or it’s really going to be a long year,” Lonergan said.

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Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 11:40 p.m.

Colonials stumble in loss to Loyola

Junior forward David Pellom drives to the net through Loyola traffic during GW's 65-55 loss Wednesday night. Michelle Rattinger | Senior Photo Editor

As Tony Taylor crashed to the floor, he heard the whistle and knew it was over.

The senior guard let his head fall onto the floor, closing his eyes momentarily. With three minutes and 46 seconds left, the Colonials down by 12 to Loyola, he’d fouled out of the game. Sitting out the final minutes on the bench, Taylor at times didn’t even watch the court, instead gazing ahead, lost in his thoughts.

It wasn’t a game where much went right for GW (4-4), and Taylor remained quiet after the final buzzer sounded. In a move characteristic of the guard, he again stepped forward to take responsibility after his team left the court with a disappointing 65-55 loss.

“I don’t remember the last time I fouled out, but I think I’ve got to pick my spots a lot better,” Taylor said. “I just had a lot of unnecessary fouls and I hurt my team tremendously doing that.”

But the breakdowns extended across the roster during the Colonials’ third straight defeat, indicated by a recurring nemesis for GW this season: a crippling opponent scoring run.

The Greyhounds used a number of runs to topple the Colonials Wednesday night, including a 15-0 run to close play in the first and a 10-0 run to open play in the second. The stretches of play are confidence killers for the Colonials, unable to find success at either end of the court. Particularly potent for Loyola was sophomore guard Dylon Cormier, the Greyhounds’ leading scorer, who added 26 points, nine boards and four assists.

“The breakdowns are really individual, we struggle to stop kids,” head coach Mike Lonergan said. “We did get some good shots in the second half, but we missed some easy shots, and you can’t do that if you’re down.”

Highlighting the damage of the scoring runs were the Colonials’ difficulties with ball control. GW was outrebounded 21-9 in the first half, neglecting to box out and maintain a solid presence in the paint. The team improved in the second, but still lost the battle at the glass 42-29. And the Colonials committed 15 turnovers, less than Loyola’s 21, but still a sign of sloppy play, Lonergan said, missed opportunities his team can ill afford.

The lack of tight control contributed to GW’s shooting woes, going just 37.9 percent from the floor on the night. The Colonials stalled from beyond the arc, shooting just 30.8 percent from three-point range, a far cry from their success with threes earlier in the season. Though GW bested Loyola in points in the paint, off turnovers, fast break points and points off the bench, it wasn’t enough to overcome the team’s shooting struggles, an unwelcome pattern for the Colonials.

GW couldn’t control the ball effectively through the halfcourt, frustrated by Loyola’s strong press defense that rushed the Colonials’ plays. They were overpowered by the Greyhounds doubleteams and aggressive play, at a physical disadvantage despite boasting some of the tallest players on the court.

“We’ve got some guys that pout a little bit about playing time or being taken out of the game and, you know, stats don’t lie. I’d like to see some guys really look in the mirror and really do some things that can help us be better as a team,” Lonergan said. “We don’t have a lot of toughness in certain people, where we’re willing to set screens and use screens. Like I said, you’re going to have to run some halfcourt offense if you’re not going to be a dominant rebounding team, which we’re not right now.”

Lonergan attempted to answer the gaps in his team’s play with shifts in their defensive approach. Against VCU, the team came out of the half with a different defense in an effort to revamp their game, and Lonergan tried to coach around lagging play again Wednesday. Halfway through the first, after beginning the game with a more physical man-to-man approach than GW brought to the court in its last match, Lonergan switched to a zone defense, trying to apply more pressure in the paint after seeing Loyola struggle from the three-point line

But his plan backfired, the Colonials returning to a man-to-man approach after the Greyhounds heated up from beyond the arc. Loyola finished the game shooting 54.5 percent from the perimeter, and 45.1 percent shooting from the floor. Lonergan was frustrated with his team’s defensive performance, pointing to GW allowing the Greyhounds open looks, and failing to shut down Loyola’s potent scorers. Many times, the Colonials left the middle wide open, allowing the Greyhounds ample room to drive to the net.

“Hopefully we’re going to do a better job defensively as a team,” Lonergan said. “We are giving up way too many open threes to the other team. And truthfully, I think a lot of that is just defensive focus and effort.”

There was one bright spot on the night for the Colonials: the surprising emergence of junior forward David Pellom. He led all of GW with 19 points, grabbing six boards, adding an assist and two steals. It was a new career-high for Pellom, many of his points coming off fast breaks where he was the recipient of his teammates’ passes, slamming home a characteristically reverberating dunk.

“It energizes us, but losing, it doesn’t feel as good, a career high,” Pellom said. “As much as I did it to help the team out, come to the victory, now we’re just going to bounce back, come back and practice hard.”

Usually, Pellom’s dunks energize his teammates, and Wednesday night, the crowd rose to its feet each time he gripped the rim. But his successes didn’t translate over for his teammates: junior Lasan Kromah was the next highest scorer for GW, adding 11, followed by senior forward Aaron Ware, who posted eight points off the bench. Taylor posted six points, matching that output with six assists and grabbing three steals.

The team’s problems are cyclical, Lonergan said: it’s difficult to correct shooting problems in the face of rebounding difficulties and turnovers. Heading into their toughest game of the season, facing No. 3 (ESPN/USA Today) Syracuse Saturday, Lonergan wants his team to refocus on their fundamental play, shake off the losing slide, and bring a different approach to the court.

“Right now, we’re not a really good team. We have some pieces, Dave was a bright spot tonight,” Lonergan said. “I’m a bad loser and it’s really going to take me a couple of days to get over this. But we have to bounce back, we’re playing maybe the best team on our schedule, maybe the best team in the country on Saturday and win or lose, we’re going to try to learn from it.”

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Senior forward Aaron Ware attempts to get a shot off over VCU senior forward Bradford Burgess. Francis Rivera | Assistant Photo Editor

Confidence was the key.

In the press room after Sunday’s game, VCU head coach Shaka Smart said his team’s confidence was the difference-maker in their 75-60 victory over the Colonials in the BB&T Classic. His players agreed. Junior guard Darius Theus said it was his team’s confidence in his ability that lead him to net a long, sinking three, earning a gentle rub on the back of the head from his coach.

When GW head coach Mike Lonergan and senior guard Tony Taylor sat down at the table, confidence was on their minds, too, but for an entirely different reason. It was a lack of confidence that tripped the Colonials up over crucial stretches of play, they agreed. And, as usual, Taylor shouldered the burden for his team’s deficit. Somehow, he said, he needs to inject confidence into the Colonials.

“I have to motivate my team a lot better than I’m doing,” Taylor said. “I’m obviously not doing a good job and we just have to trust each other a lot more and just make plays.”

The Rams and the Colonials took the court in the Verizon Center equally hyped, playing a tightly contested game over the first minutes of the first half. The game saw three ties and three lead changes over the first six minutes of play, before knotting at 16. Then, in an all-too-familiar turn of events, the Colonials were doomed by an opponent’s scoring run: the Rams posted a 16-4 run over GW to explode out for a lead, ending the half with a 43-26 advantage.

After Kansas State used a similar 15-1 run to undo the Colonials Thursday night, it was an unwelcome pattern of play for GW. VCU controlled the pace of the game in the first, forcing the Colonials to play up-tempo. It was a fast style that threw GW’s focus, forcing them into 10 first half turnovers that the Rams converted into 16 points. VCU’s total control of the pace shook the Colonials’ presence at the net, too, forcing GW to rush its looks and take bad shots. The shooting struggles are becoming another unwelcome pattern for the Colonials- going 40.7 percent from the floor and 28.6 percent from beyond the arc, it’s an indication of a team trying to find its offensive identity.

The offensive struggles carried over to GW’s defensive play. Though the Colonials bested VCU in points in the paint in the first, 14-6, the Rams sunk GW from three-point range, netting nine treys to establish their commanding lead. Lonergan switched GW’s defense from a man-to-man to a 1-3-1 zone in the midst of the Colonials’ slump, hoping to best VCU’s screens and tighten his team’s defensive presence. But nothing could halt GW’s faltering play, the team shaken by VCU’s commanding presence.

“For whatever reason, we continued to make some mistakes out there,” Lonergan said. “I think we’ve got to get better defensively. Part of those runs are not just our lack of defense, it’s also our scoring problems and our turnovers. Truthfully, you can talk about confidence, I think one of the problems of our team is that we have some guys that are too confident. Too confident in their offensive abilities.”

It was crucial for the Colonials to post a strong opening in the second half, and over the first 12 minutes of play, they did. GW became the aggressor, posting a small scoring run of its own. Lead by what Lonergan called “excellent” decision making from Taylor, who created valuable scoring opportunities for his teammates, the Colonials pulled within six. But even 51.9 shooting from the floor wasn’t enough for GW to overcome its 16-point halftime deficit. Sophomore forward Nemanja Mikic paced GW’s offense, adding 15 points, and Taylor posted 14, dishing out five assists and grabbing five rebounds. The Colonials continued to attack the paint, earning gritty points out of senior forward Aaron Ware, who posted eight to the scoreboard, often off plays that involved sharp cuts to the basket. The Colonials controlled the tempo more effectively, but were unable to make the crucial plays needed to pull ahead.

No one from GW was as explosive offensively as VCU’s senior forward Bradford Burgess, who netted 24 points and grabbed five boards. Without a go-to hot shooter, the Colonials needed to enhance their defensive presence, but VCU posted a 43.1 shooting percentage on the game. More telling were the 17 GW turnovers that the Rams converted into 21 points, a breakdown Lonergan attributes to his team’s struggles to maintain a solid defensive presence in the face of a shaky offensive performance.

“We haven’t put two good halves together yet. Hopefully we’ll keep working hard and get a lot better. We need to get more than a couple guys committed at both ends of the court and we really struggle at certain positions defensively,” Lonergan said. “We’re not getting a lot of scoring from certain positions. Our biggest problem right now is some of our guys when they’re not scoring, it affects their defense and there’s no excuse for that.”

The biggest Achilles heel for the Colonials continued to be VCU’s presence from deep. The Rams continued to find a way around GW’s guards to kick it out to the perimeter, shooting 50.0 from three-point range on the game. They hit 12 treys that cemented their victory and helped stymie GW’s attempt at a rally. Lonergan was clearly frustrated at the Colonials inability to defend the three, pointing out that assistant coach Pete Strickland’s scouting report emphasized the Rams’ potent shot from beyond the arc.

“You know, they were wide open,” Lonergan said. “A few guys had a breakdown on almost every play. We continued to give them wide open threes, we tried to trap a little, but the rotation was a little slow which gave them more open threes.”

It was 40 minutes of play where the Colonials couldn’t keep a consistent pace with the Rams, shaken by fast play that left GW struggling to control the ball through the half court. At times, the team looked tired during the game, clearly bested by VCU’s fast, athletic style, unable to make crucial plays down the stretch.

After six consecutive games away from the Smith Center, it would be easy for the Colonials to blame an underwhelming performance on fatigue. The team could also point to the challenges that come with rebuilding a new program, with a new style, with a new coach. But Taylor isn’t about to shrug off responsibility. And he isn’t about to let the Colonials deflect the question, either.

“I’m not going to blame it on anything else except for we didn’t play well today,” Taylor said. “When we go on those scoring droughts, it just takes the life out of us and we can’t let that happen. We’ve got to turn up our defense when we can’t score and not let the other team score. I think we’ve got to do a better job at that.”

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