Freshman Pops Mensah-Bonsu was told before Saturday’s championship game of the Red Auerbach Colonial Classic that he would get the first start of his collegiate career, but nobody told him he was supposed to play like it.
The 6-foot-9, 220-pound forward started at center and recorded career highs with 24 points and seven rebounds to lead the GW men’s basketball team over Bucknell University, 80-77. With the win, the Colonials (2-1) won the tournament for the ninth consecutive year at the Smith Center.
“When I found out I’d have the opportunity to start, I made sure I was going to do whatever I can,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “As soon as they got me the ball and I got off to a good start, I knew I was going to have a good game.”
Freshman Mike Hall had the first double double of his collegiate career with 16 points and 13 rebounds and sophomore point guard T.J. Thompson added 12 points and 10 assists. Thompson’s 21 total assists Friday and Saturday set a new tournament record.
The Colonials’ offense was balanced with four players scoring in double digits but Mensah-Bonsu was the catalyst, scoring the team’s first basket in each half and countering a dominant performance by Bucknell senior Boakai Lalugba. The 6-foot-6 forward scored a game-high 34 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Bison and was named tournament Most Valuable Player after the game.
But the Colonials won the team rebounding battle, 39-28, which head coach Karl Hobbs called “the difference in the game.”
“If we don’t get 18 offensive rebounds, there’s no doubt in my mind we don’t win this game,” he said.
Two of GW’s biggest rebounds came in the final minute. With the Colonials clinging to a 78-77 lead, senior Chris Monroe missed a three-pointer but freshman Omar Williams leaped up to grab the offensive rebound with 36 seconds remaining. Monroe had a quiet 12 points on 3-for-15 shooting.
After junior Greg Collucci sunk one of two free throws to extend the GW lead to 79-77, the Bison looked to Lalugba on offense once again. But Lalugba’s shot to send the game into overtime was off the mark and Hall grabbed the rebound, got fouled, and made one of two at the line to seal the game with less than a second left.
The Colonials had to play the final 1:13 without Mensah-Bonsu, who fouled out and left to a standing ovation from the Smith Center crowd of 2,365. Mensah-Bonsu said the ovation “felt good, but I would’ve rather stayed in the game.”
The Bison shot a solid 54 percent from the field, but Hall said GW was able to stop Bucknell when it counted.
“We had good weak side help from other teammates,” he said. “A big play in the game was when their big man, Lalugba, drove past me and (Collucci) was there to help me. That was the play of the game to me.”
The game was close throughout, as the lead changed hands 17 times, but Bucknell led by as many as 10 in the first half and led 46-40 at halftime after shooting 9-for-11 from behind the arc.
“We’ve never had a team in the first half shoot 9-for-11 from threes, and (Bucknell’s Kevin Bettencourt) was going berserk,” Hobbs said. “So we had to address that issue right away.”
And they did. Bucknell did not make a single three-pointer in the second half and GW rallied to take the lead for good on Mensah-Bonsu’s layup with under seven minutes left.
The Colonials took 24 three-pointers themselves, connecting on only eight, which Hobbs said was not part of their game plan.
“We really wanted to attack their big guy, because we knew he was going to attack us,” he said. “But their match-up zone was very good and it really forced us to take a lot of three pointers.”
Friday, November 29
GW 68, Mt. St. Mary’s 54
GW advanced to the tournament championship with a convincing 68-54 win over Mt. St. Mary’s College Friday night. Monroe bounced back from a 3-for-17 shooting performance at Connecticut Monday to lead GW with 25 points.
The game featured the first head-to-head battle between GW’s T.J. Thompson and his brother, Landy Thompson, a freshman on Mt. St. Mary’s. T.J. got the better of his younger brother, scoring eight points with a career-high 11 assists compared to Landy’s six points and two assists.
“That was the first time we ever played against each other our whole lives, so it was weird but it was also fun,” T.J. Thompson said. “I was a little unfocused because I knew I was playing against my brother, but I just treated it like another game.”
Freshman Omar Williams was also solid for the Colonials, notching 11 points and six rebounds despite turning the ball over four times. Turnovers were a problem for GW, which had 17, but Mt. St. Mary’s had 20 of their own.
Mt. St. Mary’s was not much better when it held on to the ball, shooting just 2-for-13 from behind the arc and combining for only seven assists as a team.
GW shot 62 percent from the field in the first half but could not put away the Mountaineers, leading only 35-30 at halftime and failing to pull away until later in the game. But much like they would on Saturday, the Colonials clamped down in the final ten minutes to secure the win.
Monday, November 25
Connecticut 67, GW 55
HARTFORD-When Chris Monroe shoots just 3-for-17 from the field for 15 points, it’s a good bet the Colonials had a tough night on offense.
That’s exactly what the senior did Monday night, as the GW men’s basketball team dropped its regular season opener 55-67 to No. 14 Connecticut in front of 14,863 at the Hartford Civic Center. The sluggish offensive performance was an anomaly for Monroe, who finished 22nd in the nation in scoring last season with 21.1 points per game, and unfortunatley for the Colonials, his teammates followed suit.
The Colonials (0-1) held the Huskies (2-0) to just 36 percent shooting but shot only 31 percent themselves in the loss. Freshman Mike Hall was the only other player to join Monroe in double figures with 12 points but his classmates were less effective, combining for just 14 points on seven turnovers. But GW head coach Karl Hobbs said the game was still a positive experience for his youngsters.
“There was no better way to start their college careers off than to play at Connecticut,” he said. “We showed our youth particularly in the second half in terms of not getting the shots we wanted to get, but we did a much better job on the backboard.”
The Colonials were outrebounded by 10 in the first half but came back to finish with 46 boards compared to Connecticut’s 45, a notable feat for a team that ranked among the worst rebounding teams in the Atlantic 10 last season and whose starting frontline was comprised of all freshmen.
Though Hobbs has implemented a fast break style of offense early in the season, GW was forced to slow their game down against a faster Connecticut team and did so by grabbing 24 offensive rebounds to prevent the Huskies from starting the fast break. Connecticut’s 12 fast break points in the game were only one more than GW’s 11.
“If Connecticut gets 67 points, I think we slowed the pace down,” Hobbs said. “Anytime you come into Connecticut’s building and hold them to 35 percent shooting and outrebound them by one, that’s difficult to do. I can almost guarantee you there won’t be too many teams that come in here and do that.”
GW kept the game close in the first half, trailing by only four at halftime despite a barrage of UConn three pointers by Husky guards Tony Robertson, Rashad Anderson, and Ben Gordon. But the Colonials shot only 21 percent and had 12 of their 20 turnovers in the second half, effectively taking themselves out of the game.
After Connecticut jumped out to a 13 point lead on an 11-2 run after halftime, GW made the game interesting towards the end, holding the Huskies scoreless for four minutes to cut the deficit to five points on two Chris Monroe free throws with 5:38 remaining. But the Huskies then went on a 10-4 run to go back up by 14, their second biggest lead of the game.
“They are more of a break you down, get the ball in the paint team, so we worked on containing penetration,” Hobbs said. “Maybe they got a hold of my scouting report, because they really made their three-point shots.”
Monroe, who usually carries GW regardless of his teammates’ performances, also struggled in the second half, failing to convert a single field goal. Connecticut Head Coach Jim Calhoun said he was pleased with his team’s defensive execution against Monroe and the rest of the Colonials.
“We did a magnificent job on Monroe and did what we were supposed to do with him,” he said. “We took their two guards (Greg Collucci and T.J. Thompson) who scored 48 points against us last year and locked them up.”
Collucci and Thompson combined for just 11 points in the game and were clearly overmatched by UConn’s trio of guards, which combined for 42 points.
“I don’t know if they’ll run into three better guards all year,” Calhoun added. “(GW) is going to be much better this year if they give this kind of effort every night.”
Connecticut’s depth ultimately gave the Huskies the edge, as leading scorer Tony Robertson had 21 points off the bench. UConn’s bench also outscored GW’s backups 25-15.
GW heads to Miami, Fl. Tuesday for a 7 p.m. game against Florida International University.
-Lauren Silva contributed to this report