Freshmen shine in men’s basketball exhibition

Senior guard Chris Monroe led the men’s basketball team in scoring in all but five games last season but rarely saw more than one of his teammates score in double digits. In Sunday’s preseason opener, the All-American candidate finally got the help he had been waiting for.

Five Colonials, including three freshmen, scored in double digits as GW knocked off the E.A. Sports All Stars 96-89. Monroe led GW with a game-high 25 points, followed by sophomore T.J. Thompson with 16 points. Making their Smith Center debut, freshmen Omar Williams, Jaz Cowan and Pops Mensah-Bonsu netted 12, 11 and 10 points, respectively.

The Colonials showed some rust in their first game with 28 turnovers but were successful when they held onto the ball, shooting 51 percent from the field and knocking down seven three-pointers.

GW Head Coach Karl Hobbs said the team’s balanced scoring attack was “as good as it gets.”

“Our offense is based on five guys touching the basketball, five guys sharing the game,” he said. “If we can get this kind of consistent effort in scoring, we have a chance to be a pretty good basketball team.”

The game was the first in the collegiate careers of GW’s seven freshmen. Six of the rookies saw considerable playing time and three started. Freshmen Mike Hall and Alexander Kireev started the game alongside Williams, but it was Mensah-Bonsu who made the most noticeable impact off the bench.

The 6-foot-9 forward had nine rebounds and brought the crowd of 1,237 to its feet with several dunks, the most acrobatic of which occurred with less than five minutes remaining in the first half. After missing a free throw, Mensah-Bonsu leaped over two taller defenders to slam home his own rebound in what Hobbs called “the most athletic play this building has ever seen.”

While Kireev sat most of the game in foul trouble, Williams played a team-high 30 minutes and turned the ball over eight times en route to his 12 points. Hall played only 16 minutes but managed eight points and eight rebounds.

“I thought the young guys brought a lot of energy,” Hobbs said. “We just have to get them to play with a little bit more poise and understanding.”

GW’s new, fast break offense made it difficult for the All Stars to keep up, but Hobbs said the Colonials’ youth was evident in the team’s transition defense.

“We had a terrific transition one time, we got a dunk and three of our young guys were celebrating,” he said. “Oh and by the way, the other team, they were inbounding the ball and making a lay-up.”

The All Stars jumped out to a 16-4 lead after the first three and a half minutes before GW started to get back into the game. The Colonials went on a 16-3 run over the next four minutes, taking a 20-19 lead on junior Greg Collucci’s jumper with 12:33 remaining. GW went on 9-2 run in the last two minutes of the half and went into the locker room up 50-40.

The Colonials continued on the same pace early in the second half to take a 16 point lead, their biggest of the game, on Cowan’s jumper at the17:39 mark. The All Stars fought back throughout the second half, eventually cutting the GW lead to three points at 88-85 with 1:15 left, but GW sealed the game with free throws in the final minutes.

Monroe was uncharacteristically sloppy with seven turnovers, six of which came in the first half, leading him to call his game “awful.”

“I felt as if I didn’t handle the ball well, and I had some mental lapses,” he said. “The points weren’t important to me. I had seven turnovers.”

Hobbs said Monroe was “exaggerating,” adding, “if he played awful today, I want him to play awful a little more.”

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