The GW men’s basketball team’s last exhibition game Thursday night was supposed to be a tune-up for the team’s young core of players but head coach Karl Hobbs took it one step further, giving nearly every player a chance to shake off the rust.
Ten different Colonials played 10 minutes or more as GW beat the Universal All Stars, 94-84, in the Colonials’ final preseason game. The Colonials open the regular season at Connecticut Nov. 25.
“I like the fact that we are able to play that number of guys and everyone that went in the game was productive,” Hobbs said. “That’s the key, that everyone went in the game was productive. And we didn’t seem to lose anything when we made a sub.”
Senior Chris Monroe scored a game-high 32 points to lead the Colonials, including 23 in the first half on 8-for-14 shooting from the field. Monroe had 12 points from the free throw line on 13 attempts and was followed for the second exhibition game in a row by solid performances from the team’s freshmen.
Rookie Mike Hall had 13 points and a game-high 14 rebounds and classmate Pops Mensah-Bonsu added 12 points and 7 rebounds. While the freshmen added some balance to GW’s scoring distribution, Monroe was still the catalyst on offense, particularly in the first half when the team struggled from the field.
“I just took what they gave me,” Monroe said. “I think they were playing me more for my drive at the beginning, so I just took the opportunity to sit back in the zone, and I just took advantage of that.”
Hobbs said the team relied on Monroe early when GW’s younger players were struggling offensively, a trend he said he expects will continue early in the regular season.
“One of the biggest things Chris did tonight, particularly in the first half, when we were struggling to score points, is he continued just to carry us until the young guys came around,” Hobbs said.
Hall came around early and often, providing leadership and solid play on both ends of the court when GW needed it. The game marked the second well-rounded performance in a row for the forward, who recorded eight points and eight rebounds in just 16 minutes during Colonials’ first exhibition game Nov. 3.
“Mike is really playing like a sophomore,” Hobbs said. “He’s really emerging into being one of our better players right now and he shows a tremendous amount of leadership skills out there.”
He added, “I think when you get a freshman to come out and give you double-figure rebounds and double-figure points, he’s got a chance to be a special player.”
The Colonials took their first lead of the game, 5-4, when Monroe made a three-point shot five minutes into the game.
Just over midway through the first half, the Colonials hit three-pointers on five possessions during a two and a half minute stretch. Greg Collucci hit both of his three-pointers and Monroe hit three of his four during the run.
The Colonials took the lead for good with just over three minutes remaining in the first half, 33-31, when Mensah-Bonsu hit two free throws. GW took a three-point lead into the locker room at halftime, 39-36.
Hall put back a Mensah-Bonsu missed jumper just over a minute into the second half to give the Colonials a 43-38 lead. The Colonials built a nine-point lead three minutes into the second half, when a Hall steal led to an Omar Williams lay-up.
The Colonials extended their lead to 13, 60-47, when T.J. Thompson hit a three-pointer from the top of the key seven minutes into the second half. GW maintained at least a seven-point lead the rest of the game to win by 10.
Shederick Ford led the Universal All-Stars with 19 points and Ben Walker grabbed six rebounds to lead the team.
Hobbs said he was particularly happy with his team’s free throw shooting and rebounding during the game. The Colonials, who struggled rebounding last season, out rebounded the All-Stars 47-38.
“The two things that I am most pleased about is that we shot extremely well from the free-throw line and we did a terrific job against a physical, tough team on the backboards,” he said.
But the coach emphasized that the Colonials need to get the ball inside more often.
“One of the things we’ve got to work on is really getting that ball inside because we’ve got guys that can really post up and really score in that area,” he said. “When we did get that ball inside to Pops, particularly in the second half, he was very, very effective.”
The Colonials open up the regular season in Hartford, Conn. against ranked No. 14 Huskies of Connecticut. Hobbs will be making his first trip back to Connecticut since his stint as assistant coach with the Huskies from 1993-2001.
Despite the challenge of opening the season against a ranked opponent, Hobbs was optimistic.
“I think if we can make it a half-court game with Connecticut, we’ll have some success,” he said.
Hobbs also said if the team can continue to play 10 players regularly, it would be in good shape.
“I think guys have to play well and force me to play them,” he said. “That’s what’s been happening in practice and I think if we can maintain that all year and get a good, solid rotation going, we’ve got a chance to be effective.”