GW men's basketball head coach Karl Hobbs has a motto: 40 hard. The phrase, which expresses a commitment to playing hard for all of a game's 40 minutes, has been printed on team T-shirts and posted in his online bio.
Hobbs has been quick to point out that he has continually gotten 40 minutes of effort from the Colonials this season, but there has still been a problem with getting 40 minutes of execution.
Since conference play began a month ago, there has been a blown double-digit lead at home, a first-half lull that put GW down 16 away from home, and last-minute lapses in close road defeats.
And then there was Saturday's loss to Duquesne, less dramatic and spectacular than the other string of setbacks, but familiar nonetheless: a back-and-forth game that saw the teams trade momentum only for GW to slack at critical junctures and fall behind for an eventual 70-63 defeat.
"We're playing 32, 34 minutes of good, quality basketball," Hobbs said after Saturday's game. "And we have six minutes of basketball where we're starting to do some strange things out there."
GW (12-10, 2-7 Atlantic 10) struggled with both shooting and taking care of the ball, making only 34 percent of their field goal attempts and committing 17 turnovers. Six of the 11 players to take the floor had at least two.
The Colonials and Dukes remained within five points of one another for most of the game, but Duquesne was able to outscore GW 18-7 over an eight-minute stretch in the second half that turned a four-point deficit into its largest lead of the game.
The run began after freshman Bryan Bynes hit a three to give the Colonials their largest lead since the game's opening minute.
"Every chance we had to control the game," Hobbs explained, "either we turned it over - we steal it, we give it right back - or we come down, we got a chance to turn the game over, and somebody's taking a bad or quick shot."
The Dukes' victory was fueled by versatile forward Damian Saunders, a 6-foot-7 junior who set a new career high with 27 points and led all players with 16 rebounds.
"Going into the game, our whole game plan with him was we didn't care how many shots [Saunders] took, didn't care how many he made, we just didn't want him to get offensive rebounds," Hobbs said. "And he got nine and that was the difference in the game."
Also key to the outcome was Duquesne's ability to score easy baskets in transition, converting a number of steals and defensive rebounds into dunks and layups. The Dukes shot just 3 for 17 on three-point shots in the game and made only 15 of their 29 free throws, but outscored GW 13-0 on fast breaks in the first half and scored a total of 40 points in the paint.
"In the second half, I don't recall them making a single jump shot," Hobbs said. "Now, I have to go watch the tape. I'm pretty sure somebody had to make a jump shot somewhere. I just don't remember them making a jump shot at all."
Perhaps just as important was the Colonials' inability to find the same source of easy offense. Freshmen Lasan Kromah and Dwayne Smith led the team with 15 and 14 points, respectively, and each grabbed 10 rebounds, but GW did not seem to have a steady source of offense for much of the game, scoring an uncharacteristically low four points on fast breaks.
"For us, we have to be able to generate points in transition and we had some opportunities and we turned it over a few times," Hobbs said. "We don't really wanna get into a half-court sort of a game. We're just not at that point, skilled enough."
A season that began with winning streaks of four and three games in nonconference play has now seen two losing streaks of the same lengths within the A-10. Though six of the seven losses have been close games, Hobbs said that there is concern about his players feeling reassured that their efforts will eventually pay off in the standings.
"The thing for me is going through the growing pains with these guys and that's the frustration," Hobbs said. "In college basketball, no one wants to be patient, unfortunately, but that's just the nature of the beast."
Kromah, for his part, seemed to have put the rough patch in perspective and begun looking forward.
"We just need to get back into practice and play the type of GW basketball that we play," he said. "Keep up our hard work in practice and it's gonna come."
GW will be out of action for a week before traveling to the Bronx to play Fordham Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 1 p.m.