Willing but not able, young Colonials no match for Xavier, St. Joe’s

The Colonials have been able to beat teams by outworking them this season – look no further than when GW erased an 18-point halftime deficit and stunned Marshall University with a tough defensive stand and a nothing-fancy offense in the season opener. But after two losses this weekend to Xavier and St. Joseph’s, it seems stamina and hard work haven’t overcome significant shortcomings in talent and experience against the top teams in the Atlantic 10.

With 10 wins, GW has been able to overachieve to the point where they are in a position to contend for a spot in either the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. But in order to make the transition from often playing like a serious contender to actually being one, the Colonials must show that they can at least compete against the league’s best.

The team has been humbled by superior opponents. As a result, the Colonials often appeared helpless and frustrated, not to mention tired.

After both games last weekend, Hobbs applauded his team’s effort, as he has all season regardless of how well they played and gave credit to his team’s opponent.

Trying to prevent inflated expectations, Hobbs said after the Xavier game, “Don’t make these guys out to be All-Americans like there’s some surprise that they had a tough night.”

Still, Hobbs recognized room for improvement. “We need to have better discipline so we can put ourselves in a position to win some of these games,” he said. “And it’s going to take us some time to mature to get to that level.”

In both losses, the Colonials were clearly unable to play at the level Hobbs was referring to, although they did cut Xavier’s lead to six near the end of Thursday’s game. Opponents have been able to exploit GW’s weaknesses, namely size and experience, while the Colonials could not combat the other team’s strengths. GW, remember, has five walk-ons, four freshman and unequal ratio of 8 to 4 guards to forwards

Against Xavier, the Colonials shot only 35 percent from the field and scored about 10 points below their average with 63. T.J. Thompson and Greg Collucci, who normally score nearly 23 points a game, combined for only five points on 0-for-11 shooting.

“I can explain that very easily,” a frustrated Hobbs said. “Those guys were being guarded.”

Indeed, Xavier’s defense is second best in the A-10, but the Colonials were not able to counter with strong defense of their own. GW held David West to only 12 points, but Xavier began the game with a 10-0 lead and Romain Sato was able to penetrate at will.

At St. Joseph’s in Philadelphia, GW had a better offensive showing but broke down defensively and allowed the Hawks to put the game away early in the second half with an onslaught of dunks and easy lay-ups.

Again, there is no question the Hawks are one of the best offensive teams in the country at nearly 82 points a game, but GW was within single digits for only the first 15 minutes of the game.

The Xavier game was also less competitive than the final score revealed, as GW climbed back from a double-digit deficit solely because of Monroe’s dominance.

One of the biggest factors in both losses was the battle in the paint, a direct of result of GW’s lack of size. Against Xavier, GW was out-rebounded 41-27 and gave up nine first-half offensive rebounds against St. Joseph’s.

More importantly, each opponent’s front-court players combined for at least 25 points and 13 rebounds, while GW’s only solid performance in the paint came from Tamal Forchion. Jaason Smith, who averages more than nine points and seven rebounds a game, scored seven points and 10 rebounds in the two games.

Now that the Colonials have the potential for postseason success, their future will be determined by how they compete against the best teams remaining on their schedule, particularly Xavier, Dayton and Temple.

Furthermore, the road to an A-10 title and an automatic NCAA bid will probably go through Xavier or St. Joseph’s, so improvement from the last two losses will be undoubtedly critical.

With five of the team’s next seven games on the road and two of them against Temple and Xavier, GW will not be relieved by many easy games; so maturity will have to come quickly.

When asked if he thought his team would be better equipped to compete against teams like Xavier and St. Joseph’s in the future, Hobbs said, “That’s the goal we’re trying to get to.”

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