There’s no “I” in team.
Head coach Mike Lonergan rattled off the familiar cliché when describing his team’s success at the BB&T Classic, where they secured a 78-70 victory over Charlotte for their fifth win of the young season.
“I always tell our guys, ‘Hey, there’s no ‘I’ in team,’ and it really is true,” Lonergan said. “And we’ve got to play for each other because we have a chance to be a very good team, but we’ve got to take advantage of each of our strengths and hide our weaknesses, and we can’t do that individually.”
The fourth-year head coach said the Colonials “tried to do too much on [their] own” in their 58-54 loss to a still undefeated Seton Hall on Nov. 29. Up against former Atlantic 10 rival Charlotte on Sunday, GW proved just how important playing as a team can be.
In the eight-point victory, an evenly filled stat sheet and unselfish play helped GW overcome many of the struggles the team has faced so far this season.
GW had just seven assists in the loss to Seton Hall, while junior forward Kevin Larsen, the team’s go-to big man, scored just three points. But smarter passing got everyone involved Sunday, as the Colonials totaled 17 assists and the starting GW frontcourt combined for 17 points.
But the scoring didn’t stop there. Junior point guard Joe McDonald flirted with a triple-double, tallying eight rebounds, eight assists and 11 points on the day, and for the first time this season, all four starting juniors would score in double figures.
McDonald now leads the team with 6.9 rebounds per game, a rare statistic for a point guard, but he says rebounding is just another shared team responsibility.
“You know we’re missing Zeek, and you don’t want to put all of that pressure on Kevin [Larsen] and John [Kopriva],” McDonald said. “It’s not just me. Kethan [Savage] rebounds, Patricio [Garino] does, so it’s more a team effort.”
While McDonald has served as a rebounding guard all season, players moved outside of traditional roles in another way on Sunday. Instead of relying solely on their three-point specialists like Watanabe and sophomore Nick Griffin, who scored the only two threes in the Seton Hall loss, the Colonials saw improved three-point shooting Sunday, going a season high .500 from beyond the arc.
GW was able to get open looks for McDonald, Kopriva, Jorgensen and junior Kethan Savage who combined for five three-pointers on the day.
“We’ve been shooting very poorly from the three-point line this year. It’s no secret … but almost every three we took [today] was wide open. For us, five for 10 is excellent,” Lonergan said.
The Colonials also managed a season-high .750 shooting percentage from the line against the 49ers, led by McDonald who went 6-7, as five Colonials combined for 15 crucial points from the charity stripe.
The change may not be by accident or just a random switch. Lonergan said he was hoping the team would be 6-1 at this point instead of 5-2, calling the loss at Seton Hall a disappointment. He mentioned the presence of NBA scouts at practices as a distraction and said he may have been “too into” the team’s preseason pick as second in the A-10, which he discussed with the team.
“I just told the guys really after Virginia and Seton Hall that I don’t want to hear about the NBA and all that stuff. That stuff will come if you win games and play as a team,” Lonergan said. “Winning takes care of everything … These guys have got a lot of goals but the team goals come first.”
The work continues for the Colonials as they return to the Smith Center to take on DePaul on Thursday at 7 p.m.