One after another, the GW men’s basketball team’s shots kept bouncing off the rim in Tuesday’s 69-61 loss to Rhode Island.
The Colonials made only 26 percent of their shots in the second half, as Rhode Island ended GW’s seven-game winning streak in front of 5,016 vocal fans at the Smith Center. It was GW’s first loss at home this season.
The Rams (18-5, 9-2 Atlantic 10) outscored the Colonials 26-10 during an 11:55-minute span at the start of the second half to win their fifth straight game.
Sophomore Luther Clay had 19 points and seven rebounds for Rhode Island, and Cuttino Mobley had 25 points and eight rebounds.
The Colonials (20-4, 9-2 A-10) had a five-point lead at halftime, but the Rams intensified their defense and held GW scoreless for a five-minute stretch midway through the second half. The Colonials made 10 of 38 second-half shots and shot only 29 percent for the game.
“Our defense in the second half was outstanding,” Rhode Island head coach Jim Harrick said. “We really came out and guarded them, and that allowed us to get out in transition.”
On offense, Rhode Island began making shots in the second half. With the score tied at 36-36 and 15:45 remaining, the Rams slowly began to pull away. Clay made two free throws and a hook shot to put Rhode Island ahead 40-36 with 14:25 remaining. Guard Preston Murphy’s athletic layup gave Rhode Island a nine-point lead with 9:30 remaining.
One possession later, Preston lofted the ball perfectly above the rim for an alley-oop dunk by Clay. Mobley followed with a three-pointer, and the Rams led 54-40 with 8:14 remaining.
“They like to drive a lot and we were able to cut their penetration off and shut down Shawnta (Rogers). That’s where a lot of their offense comes from,” Clay said.
GW came back in the final five minutes of the game, cutting the Rhode Island lead to 60-54 with 2:07 left. Clay made a free throw to put the Rams up seven points, and guard Shawnta Rogers (six points) then missed a 17-foot jump shot.
But the Colonials played solid defense on Rhode Island’s next possession and forced Tyson Wheeler to take an off-balance three-pointer as the shot clock expired. Wheeler’s shot was no good, but Mobley was left alone under the basket. He got the rebound and made an uncontested layup to put the Rams up nine points and end GW’s chances with 57 seconds remaining. On the GW bench, Coach Mike Jarvis took a deep sigh and shook his head.
“When we win, we win in the paint and we didn’t do that tonight,” he said. “We had too many missed layups and free throws in the first half. We had too many missed opportunities in the first half.”
GW made eight of its 13 first-half free throws, and both Antxon Iturbe and Alexander Koul missed uncontested layups in the first half. GW led at halftime, 31-26, despite shooting only 34 percent. However, Rhode Island was not making many more shots than the Colonials. The Rams shot 35 percent in the first half, and starting guards Wheeler and Mobley had a combined six points at halftime.
The Rams quickened the game’s pace in the second half. Rhode Island shot 56 percent after halftime, getting more layups and dunks.
The 6-9 Clay controlled the middle, getting Koul in foul trouble. Koul fouled out with 5:23 left in the game after scoring 10 points. Clay, meanwhile, made seven of his eleven shots. Clay, a junior transfer from Purdue, sat out much of last season after suffering a severe ankle injury.
“It’s like guarding a semi in neutral,” Clay said of guarding Koul. “I was able to go right at him and get him in foul trouble.”
“Luther’s contribution was tremendous, he has come a long way,” Harrick said of Clay, who is averaging 9.4 points per game this season.
Forward Yegor Mescheriakov led GW with 14 points but made only five of his 16 shots in his fourth game back from an ankle injury.
“He’s trying to get back into shape,” Jarvis said. “He was out three weeks and you get out of shape when you’re out that long.”
Freshman guard Mike King dressed for the game but did not play. It was the second-straight game King has missed since suffering a sprained ankle at La Salle Thursday.
“He’s very athletic,” Mobley said of King. “Him not being out there hurt their perimeter game and made it easier on us.”
“It would have been nice to have Mike King, but that wasn’t why we lost this game,” Jarvis said.
Jarvis added that King will return Saturday, when the Colonials play at Dayton. “The next five games are going to be wars. That’s why this conference is so good,” he said.
GW’s ranking of 17th in this week’s Associated Press’ Top 25 poll was the team’s highest ranking in 42 years. The Colonials remain in first place in the A-10 West Division, leading second-place Dayton by a game and a half.
The Rams were playing their third game in four days, but Mobley said the team was not tired. He and Harrick both said the Rams were determined to beat a ranked team and earn more respect. “This was really a statement game for us,” Harrick said.