Saint Joseph's: 71
PHILADELPHIA - When sophomore guard and preseason All-Atlantic 10 Third Team selection Lasan Kromah went down for the season with a sprained left foot, expectations for the men's basketball team plummeted.
Kromah was the team's leading returning scorer from last season and the Greenbelt, Md., native was expected to be the centerpiece of the Colonials' offense. Without him, GW struggled to open the season.
GW shot 30.3 percent against Boston University, 28.1 percent against Hampton and 32.1 percent against George Mason, all part of a seven-game stretch to open the season in which GW went 2-5 and shot better than 45 percent from the floor just twice.
Without Kromah, the Colonials scrambled to revamp their offense, suffering through offensive growing pains early in the season as players adjusted to their new roles.
"We started the year off and it was a year of adjustment," head coach Karl Hobbs said. "As the year started, Lasan was hurt right before we got ready to start to play games, so now we had to adjust to playing without him, and that was very difficult for a lot of guys, because all of a sudden they're being asked to do something a little bit differently."
But since falling to Navy in the BB&T Classic Dec. 5, the Colonials have begun to show signs of progress, winning seven of their last eight games and finding a rhythm offensively. The team, which had scored more than 70 points just once in its first seven games, has topped 70 in six of its last eight games.
GW beat an opponent from a major conference on the road for the first time since 2001 with its Dec. 18 victory at Oregon State, and with its 78-71 victory over Saint Joseph's Saturday, GW won back-to-back games to open A-10 play for the first time since the 2005-2006 season.
The team is not perfect, Hobbs said, but the progress he's seen is encouraging.
"I still think we're still making adjustments, we're trying to find ourselves. What we're doing now, we're starting to put some points on the board and that's made it a little bit easier for us," Hobbs said. "Guys are really starting to fall into their roles and really starting to understand what's expected," he added.
One of the guys Hobbs is talking about when he mentions players adapting to new roles is sophomore forward Dwayne Smith. After scoring a total of five points in 39 minutes over GW's first four games of the season, Smith has become one of the Colonials' most consistent offensive weapons, scoring in double figures in eight of GW's last 11 games.
Smith's improved play hasn't gone unnoticed by Hobbs and his staff, who have put the Toronto native in the starting lineup in each of the last five games.
"Dwayne's been huge," Hobbs said. "We started the year out, after a few games, I think it was eight games, we re-evaluated, we made an adjustment knowing that we needed to put him in the starting lineup because of his scoring ability and at the same time, we felt that [David] Pellom off the bench would give us instant energy and he's been able to respond and do that."
For Smith, who showed flashes of his scoring ability as a freshman last season, making the adjustment from occasional contributor to offensive weapon was more mental than anything else.
"I think that it just took me a while to adjust to my role. Coach Hobbs told me I gotta be a scorer for the team, and in the beginning, the nerves took me because that's a big role, you know, to be able to score for the team," Smith said. "As the season progressed, I started working out a lot more in the gym, getting extra shots up and getting my moves down and stuff. As the season progressed, I've just gotten more comfortable and coach has given me more leeway to score, more minutes, so I've just been producing."
With the meat of their conference schedule still ahead of them, things will not get any easier for the Colonials. GW still faces road games at Richmond and Xavier and home games against Temple, Dayton and Saint Louis, but confidence, Smith said, is no longer an issue for him or his teammates.
"I think we are doing a great job. As you can see, we've come a long way from the beginning of the season," Smith said. "I tip my hat off to the coaches. They do a great job of preparing us and just getting us ready for the game. I think, yeah, we most definitely are on the uprise now."