PHILADELPHIA – The second-hottest team in the Atlantic 10 took a five-game winning streak, a three-day old victory over the best of the West, and a chance to go over .500 into Tom Gola Arena Saturday evening. After the GW men’s basketball team fell back to Earth with a humbling 77-68 loss to La Salle, the Colonials left with the knowledge that nothing – not even a win over the worst of the West – can ever be taken for granted.
It was easy to say that it was just one of those nights for the Colonials (11-12, 5-5 A-10), as every ball seemed to bounce the wrong way and every shot seemed to trickle out. To La Salle’s credit the Explorers (9-12, 3-7 A-10) played well enough to win, but did little to dispel the notion that GW was the more talented team – if not the more focused one.
La Salle didn’t look like the team that won 80-49 at Xavier three weeks ago, but GW certainly didn’t resemble the team that dropped 95 points on Dayton three days ago. The Colonials followed up their best shooting game of the Tom Penders-era (60.7 percent Wednesday night) with their worst shooting game of the Tom Penders-era – a comatose 31.5 percent.
We had to shoot well to win here, GW Coach Tom Penders said. We didn’t.It’s amazing that we were even in the game.
The Colonials had some positives to point to – junior Mike King’s fine shooting and 13-point performance, junior point guard Bernard Barrow’s five assists and four steals, and freshman swingman Chris Monroe’s seven offensive boards – plus the team’s nine turnovers compared to La Salle’s 22. But taking 73 shots to La Salle’s 56 could not compensate for truly abysmal shooting percentages by almost every key player.
Freshman guard SirValiant Brown led GW’s inaccuracy by also following up his best shooting game ever (10-of-17 Wednesday) with his worst, a staggering 5-for-27 performance Saturday. Monroe, who shot 12-of-16 last time against the Explorers (a 99-75 win Jan. 29 at the Smith Center), missed short shot after short shot and also turned in the worst shooting performance of his career, going 4-of-16. Barrow also added little in scoring, shooting just 1-for-5. Brown was 1-of-14 (7.1 percent) on three-pointers, leading the team to a 3-of-28 (10.7 percent) performance from long range, the worst under Penders.
Some nights that happens, Penders said. We couldn’t get anybody going.
The sedate 3,815 announced fans (including about 25 students in the student section) in the intimate Gola Arena promised the perfect road atmosphere for another impressive GW performance, but the Colonials struggled from the start. They saw their last lead of the game one minute in at 2-0. The Explorers answered that opening bucket with an 11-2 run and then expanded on that lead, opening up a 32-17 lead with just under four minutes left in the half.
The Explorers had numerous opportunities to pad their margin but could not. The Colonials continued to dodge bullets as the Explorers, who had little trouble getting open all day, missed several open looks.
GW had no answer offensively for La Salle’s zone and little answer defensively for La Salle forwards Victor Thomas and Rasual Butler, who combined for 24 points in the first half. In the first, La Salle shot 15-for-30 while GW shot only 9-for-34 and 1-of-15 from three-point range. Trying to loosen up the zone with some perimeter shooting proved to be a futile exercise for the Colonials.
We came off a 60-percent shooting game, and they threw up the zone, Penders said. We’ve been great against the zone all year, but we just couldn’t hit from the outside.
Freshman Arthur Andrews, who played the last three minutes, drew a foul on a reverse layup for a three-point play, added two steals, and gave a spark to the Colonials as they closed within 34-24 at the half. The 24 points matched the Xavier game’s season low for points in the first half.
The opening of the second half seemed reminiscent of the miraculous comeback in that game as a three-pointer from Brown, a layup by sophomore Jason Smith and a steal and coast-to-coast drive by junior Antxon Iturbe pulled GW within three less than two minutes into the second half. Smith and Monroe would combine for GW’s next 11 points while Monroe went to the line on three straight possessions. In one bright spot, he would shoot 10-of-14 at the line overall.
The margin ballooned back to as many as nine as La Salle continued to put GW on its heels with a running offense that kept beating the Colonials back on defense. Finally, GW made its last run with four minutes left when a Monroe layup cut it to 64-61. La Salle’s Donnie Carr, who had 21 points on the night, made two free throws to give La Salle some breathing room. GW answered with a turnover by Smith when he stepped on the baseline, and then, given an opportunity after a steal, Monroe missed two one-foot shots. Carr made two more free throws, Monroe answered with a layup, then fouled Butler as he buried a jumper to provide La Salle’s last dagger. The 71-63 lead with two minutes left was more than enough to overcome GW’s inept offense.
To beat probably the hottest team next to Temple in the A-10, it’s a really gratifying win, La Salle Coach William Speedy Morris said. We played (at the Smith Center) as bad as we played well here.
I’m happy to beat them, because I haven’t beaten them since I’ve been here, said senior Carr, whose team ended a seven-game losing streak to GW and a three-game losing streak to GW at Gola Arena.
Brown’s worst performance of the season (though his 24.9 scoring average still leads the nation) belied the progress in field-goal percentage he had made of late. Combined with the fact that the only other time he scored as few as 16 points was Jan 29 against La Salle, he probably left the Explorers wondering what all the fuss is about.
He’s a scoring machine, Morris said. I thought we did a real good job on him.
Yeah, he struggled, Penders said. I thought he was rushing a little bit.
Brown also has developed a pattern lately of following a high-scoring game with a low-scoring game and vice versa. Beginning with Dayton Jan. 22, Brown has scored, in order: 22, 29, 16, 36, 20, 33 and 16 points.
Rasual Butler led all scorers Saturday with 27, while Monroe led GW with 18. It was the only the third time since the Top of the World Classic in Alaska that GW did not have a 20-point scorer.
For the first time since Jan. 5, the Colonials will not play a game this Wednesday. Starting Thursday, they will play an unusual two games in three days, both at the Smith Center. GW will host Virginia Tech (12-12, 5-6 A-10) Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., then Rhode Island (5-19, 2-9 A-10) 40 hours later at noon Saturday in a nationally televised ESPN game.