It’s been a week since the Colonials nearly upset Saint Louis last Saturday. A week to think about what’s left to be done and for head coach Mike Lonergan to get his team back to early season form, stating after Saturday’s loss that his team had lost its swagger.
With just three games to play before the Atlantic 10 tournament, and the Colonials still fighting for a top four finish in the conference, Lonergan told his team it’s officially a three-game season. First up, a rematch against George Mason.
In their last meeting on Jan. 25, GW topped GMU 75-69 at the Patriot Center. The Colonials handed the Patriots their sixth-straight conference loss, while improving to 4-1. But since then, GMU has gone 3-4, beating A-10 foes such as Massachusetts and Richmond, while losing in overtime to the Billikens. GW has done slightly better, going 4-3 in that period.
“They had been playing everybody tough early in the year and were just kind of snake-bitten,” Lonergan said at a practice Friday. “Now they’ve gotten some wins and got their confidence up and they’re definitely one of the better offensive teams in our league.”
The Patriots continue to be led by the senior duo of Sherrod Wright and Bryon Allen. In the seven games since the two teams’ last meeting, Wright has averaged 20.5 points per game, while Allen has averaged 19.1. Anchoring the defense is redshirt freshman Jalen Jenkins, who ranks 16th in the conference at 6.3 rebounds, pulling in 8.3 rebounds in GMU’s last three games. In January, Jenkins, along with senior Johnny Williams, hurt the Colonials with outside jumpers and aggressiveness on the glass.
“They rebound good, they play good defense and last time we got burned with their big men shooting elbow jumpers. I think he [Williams] hit like four of them,” sophomore Kevin Larsen said. “We’ve got to be ready to go out and close out under control and make him drive.”
But for Lonergan, it’s not about scouting Mason as much as it is scouting his own team. Lonergan said Friday that there are three keys for the Colonials to get back to their winning ways; knocking down shots and getting back to focusing on rebounding and defense.
“I think we stopped getting better and started losing the focus of our program, which is really defense and rebounding,” Lonergan said “If your shots don’t drop, you can still guard and you can still help a team in other ways and we’ve got to all recognize that. So we got to get our energy and enthusiasm back and I think we’ll have a great crowd the next two home games.”
As a team, GW has shot just 36.3 percent from the field over its last three games. To change that, Lonergan is continuing to hope that graduate student Maurice Creek will find his stroke. Creek, who’s been the pulse of the team all season long, struggled mightily against Saint Louis last Saturday, not scoring his first bucket until seven minutes into the second half. Lonergan said that he needs Creek to produce, because when the guard is on, it’s contagious.
“We’ve got to get Maurice Creek hitting shots because I think when he was hitting shots, it opened things up for Nemanja Mikic who was shooting really well, but now his numbers are down too,” Lonergan said. “We’re gonna try and get [Creek] some open shots and hopefully he’ll get back on track. He had a very good all-around game at Mason and he’s due for a breakout game.”
With the conference tournament now just two weeks away and a possible NCAA tournament appearance to follow, it would be easy for GW to overlook a GMU team that sits near the bottom of the conference. But the Colonials seem focused and ready to return to the Smith Center floor where they are 12-1 on the season.
“There’s no room to look ahead. We’ve got to focus on each game at a time and on Sunday we’ve got George Mason and right now that’s the most important game on the schedule,” Larsen said.
Tip off for this Revolutionary Rivalry matchup is at 1 p.m. Sunday.