What: Men’s basketball (18-5, 7-3 A-10) vs. Saint Joseph’s (19-4, 8-2 A-10)
Where: Smith Center, Washington, D.C. CSN (TV)
When: Wednesday, Feb. 9 at 7 p.m.
Men’s basketball and its fans may still be basking in the glory of a 72–69 win against conference rival VCU (17-6, 9-1 A-10) last weekend, GW’s first ever at the Siegel Center, but the Colonials’ tough Atlantic 10 stretch continues Wednesday night.
After stringing together three straight wins for the first time since mid-December, GW looks to stay hot against a surging Saint Joseph’s squad that sits at third place in the league, one spot ahead of the Colonials.
With both sides receiving single-digit vote totals in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, and Saint Joseph’s boasting an RPI of 30 to GW’s 34, both bubble teams will be fighting hard for a crucial victory that would bolster either NCAA Tournament resume.
The Hawks have been dealt only two A-10 losses by VCU and St. Bonaventure this season, but are coming off a 22-point road win at Fordham.
“We are feeling great. I think momentum is on our side and our confidence is higher than ever,” senior swingman Patricio Garino said Tuesday. “We have a great team but at the same time we are aware that we can lose to any team in this conference at any time. We need to stay focused but live off this momentum we have.”
The case for the Colonials:
GW has scored at least 72 points in its last three games, and will need to sustain its offensive consistency to find success against a stingy Saint Joseph’s defense. The Colonials hold a slight edge in scoring, averaging 75.8 points per game to the Hawks 75.1.
Redshirt junior forward leads that effort with 16.6 points per game, followed closely by Garino who averages 13.7 and who netted a career-high 27 points at VCU. Senior forward Kevin Larsen also adds a team-best 8.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game.
Solid team defense, which was on display at home last week in a commanding 10-point win over Davidson, will also be key in thwarting a dangers Hawks’ offense. GW is allowing an average of 68.5 points per game to the visitors’ 67.4.
“We have to keep doing the right thing and play the right way,” head coach Mike Lonergan said Tuesday of his team’s defensive effort. “It can’t be two or three guys at a time. It needs to be all five guys on the court. It starts with our starters and they know what is at stake.”
And as it has in most tight games this season, the ability to get to the line and convert from there may be a game-breaker. And in that category, GW has the upper-hand. The Colonials are shooting the 15th-best clip from the charity stripe in the country (75.3 percent) and have attempted 572 free throws all season, the most in the A-10.
The case for the Hawks:
Looking at GW’s 12-1 home record this season, a trip to a tightly-packed Smith Center would seem daunting to almost any visitor, but probably not the Hawks. Saint Joseph’s currently possesses the nation’s best road record: a perfect 8-0.
Superb play away from home and a hearty 19-4 overall record is largely the product of a stellar season from the Hawks’ frontcourt. Senior forward Isaiah Miles and junior forward DeAndre Bembry are averaging a team-best 17.3 and 17.0 points per game, respectively.
Miles also posts a team-high 8.2 rebounds per game, while in two career games against GW, Bembry is averaging an impressive 22 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.0 steals.
“Isaiah Miles is arguably the most improved player in our conference this year, definitely, and really even in all of college basketball,” Lonergan said. “His ability to shoot the ball was always there and now he is taking it to the basket more. And with [DeAndre'] Bembry they have two guys that are really potent scorers, so it is not going to be easy.”
The rebounding battle in this one could go either way, so it’s important for the Hawks to remain staunch on defense. The team does a good job at forcing bad shots, evidenced through its A-10-best field goal defense, allowing just 39.5 percent of shots by opponents fall.
The Bottom Line:
With so much on the line for both teams, this game should prove to be an extremely entertaining, yet stressful showdown for fans as each side jostles for national recognition. Expect both squads to pull out all the stops in search of a pivotal win that would assert the victor as one of the league’s best.