Doctors told him he might not play this season, his coach said he may never be the same again and he still has flashbacks of his injury while on the court. But Tamal Forchion’s performance Saturday afternoon at the Smith Center made one resounding statement: don’t count him out yet.
In a match-up of two of the Atlantic 10’s premier young teams, the sophomore forward broke out for a season-high 18 points and eight rebounds, lifting the GW men’s basketball team to a 76-67 win over La Salle. Hampered all year by an ankle injury, Forchion’s previous season-best was five points.
“I’ve been stressed lately, and I had a talk with (assistant) coach (Kevin) Broadus because he saw that I was down. He just told me to put all the stress in my life aside and just go out there and play,” Forchion said. “Fortunately, I did pretty well and (head) coach (Karl Hobbs) believed in me and kept me in the game.”
Forchion’s strong inside play came when the Colonials (10-14, 4-9 A-10) needed it most. Saturday’s win put GW back in contention for the pivotal fourth seed in the A-10 West, currently held by La Salle (10-13, 4-8 A-10). GW is now a half-game behind the Explorers for a first round home game in the A-10 Tournament, but is only a half-game ahead of last-place Duquesne.
“We desperately needed this win,” Hobbs said. “We didn’t play with that desperation at Duquesne so we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again here at home. And last time we played La Salle was our worst game of the year, so this game was important for a lot of different reasons.”
The importance of the game for both teams was evident in the combination of emotions and physical play on the court. With just under 14 minutes left in the second half, GW’s Pops Mensah-Bonsu and La Salle’s Joel-Jean Baptiste were called for technical fouls after exchanging shoves while Hobbs simultaneously berated officials for not calling a foul when Mensah-Bonsu had the ball on the previous play.
Seconds later, GW freshman Omar Williams was called for a technical foul for taunting after a slam dunk. But GW kept its composure down the stretch, extending its lead from six to 14 points in the five minutes following the technicals.
The game was somewhat of an anomaly offensively for GW, which usually employs a fast break offense led by senior Chris Monroe. But Monroe scored just 12 points in a season-low 22 minutes and the Colonials scored just four points on the fast break, finding ways to execute in their half-court offense instead.
“It’s about team and it’s about winning, it’s not about Chris Monroe,” Hobbs said. “Today other guys stepped up and played well, and I suspect that Chris will have better games in the future.”
One player who stepped up considerably was junior Greg Collucci, who scored 11 points and tied a career-high six rebounds in a season-high 31 minutes, complimenting what Hobbs called excellent defense. After knocking down the last of his three baskets from behind the arc, the Smith Center crowd began chanting his name.
“It takes a lot when you play over 30 minutes a game last year and then these young guys come in and your role changes,” Hobbs said of Collucci. “His mental toughness is really starting to show, and I’m really pleased he was able to maintain his focus while he was struggling.”
GW led La Salle through much of the game, but the Explorers did not allow the Colonials to pull away until late. After leading 34-32 at halftime, GW did not lead by double digits until after the technical fouls. GW led 54-46 with 10 minutes left in the game when Collucci hit back-to-back three-pointers to put the Colonials up 60-46. The Explorers would come no closer than nine the rest of the way.
With each team having a lineup of predominantly freshmen, both Hobbs and Explorers head coach Billy Hahn spoke of the match-up as a foreshadowing of years to come.
“La Salle and us are identical in so many ways,” Hobbs said. “Billy and I talk about it all the time. We are the exact carbon copies of one another, and I think we’re two programs that are on the rise.”
La Salle’s freshmen were led by A-10 Rookie of the Week Gary Neal, who ignored the heckling of 2,529 at the Smith Center to score a game-high 31 points. But Hahn said his team was limited by the loss of another freshman standout, Steven Smith, to a foot injury.
“It’s like being in a card game and not having all the cards. It’s not a whole lot of fun,” he said. “But GW made the plays today and we didn’t, so you have to give them credit.”
GW will look to win its first road game in conference play Wednesday at Saint Bonaventure at 7:30 p.m.