GW men’s basketball head coach Tom Penders said he was glad his team got a tough game from George Mason University before the Colonials traveled to Assembly Hall to take on the University of Illinois Tuesday.
The close call in the first game paid off in GW’s second game, as the Colonials (2-0) came from behind to beat the Fighting Illini 64-58 after GW had held the lead for most of the game.
With GW trailing 58-56 with 17 seconds left in the game, senior Yegor Mescheriakov drained two free throws to tie the game. Sophomore Roey Eyal then stole the in-bounds pass after the second free throw and laid the ball in to give GW a 60-58 lead. Shawnta Rogers made another steal for GW, was fouled, and made two more free throws with five seconds remaining to ice the victory.
Penders said he switched from a three-quarter court trap at the end of the game to a full-court defense, which led to the two steals.
“It shook them (Illinois) up,” said Penders, who had not installed a full-court press all game. “Those are the things I’m pleased with, how they react. They are very coachable.”
The Colonials once again played solid defense coupled with an offense that stalled at several points in the game. Illinois (1-2) committed 22 turnovers, 12 coming on GW steals, and shot just 33 percent from the field.
GW also shot poorly from the field, making 33 percent of its shots for the game and 28 percent in the second half. The Colonials turned the ball over almost as much as the Illini, losing possession 20 times. Sophomore Mike King had a game-high seven turnovers. But Penders said he is not concerned about his team’s sluggish offense in the first two games.
“We held Illinois to the same percentage we shot (33 percent),” Penders said. “Defense should be dominating at this point in the season.”
Rogers led GW in scoring for the second game in a row with 19 points, including GW’s only two three-pointers. Mescheriakov added 15 points, King chipped in with 14 points, and junior Francisco de Miranda pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds.
Freshman Albert Roma made his debut as a Colonial after sitting out the opener against George Mason Friday because of an NCAA violation. He started the game for GW and scored two points to go along with three rebounds in 21 minutes of play. He fouled out late in the second half.
The Illini’s only lead of the first half came at 3-0, before the Colonials ran off nine straight points. GW pushed its lead to nine points at 30-21 at halftime.
At the start of the second half, Illinois cut GW’s lead to 36-35 behind the play of Cleotis Brown, who scored a team-high 19 points. GW held on to a narrow lead until late in the second half when Illinois took its first lead since the opening minute at 54-52.
The Illini extended their lead to 57-53 before Rogers nailed his second three-pointer of the game to close the gap to one point. On the following Illinois possession, Robert Archibald made his first free throw and missed the second to make the score 58-56 before GW’s game-ending 6-0 run.
GW now has a 12-day layoff. The Colonials do not play again until Nov. 29, when they travel to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
“I find it hard to keep their attention with just practice,” Penders said. “And in practice, you don’t know if you’re getting better because you’re playing each other.”