Mensah-Bonsu, Hall Lead men’s basketball to win headed into A-10 Tournament

On a day when fans paid tribute to the Colonials’ past, the GW men’s basketball team caught an encouraging glimpse of the future Saturday on Senior Day at the Smith Center.

The afternoon was as much a celebration of Chris Monroe’s career as a basketball game, but freshmen Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Mike Hall took care of business on the court by making every one of their shots in GW’s 77-61 win over Fordham.

The win gave the Colonials (11-16, 5-11 Atlantic 10) the fifth seed in the A-10 West and sets them up for a first-round A-10 Tournament game at Massachusetts (11-17, 6-10 A-10) Monday. UMass has won 11 straight opening games in the tournament.

“This win was important for the team, so we can look forward to the tournament with momentum,” Monroe said after his last home game. “This is a new season right here starting against UMass. We played against them already, so we know who they have, they know who we have, and it’s just going to come down to who wants it more.”

Monday’s game, which starts at 7 p.m. and can be seen on A-10 TV, will be a chance at retribution for the Colonials. The Minutemen knocked GW out of the tournament in the first round last year and beat the Colonials 75-70 at the Smith Center Jan. 18.

The match-up will also give GW the opportunity to extend the career of Monroe, who had 17 points and five rebounds Saturday after being honored in a pre-game ceremony and receiving praise from the crowd of 3,383 throughout the game.

GW Head Coach Karl Hobbs said the team is driven by its hope to help Monroe to an NCAA Tournament game before his career ends.

“Nothing will make me happier than seeing this young man finish off his career playing in the NCAA Tournament,” he said. “Because I know what it’s like, I know the experience and I think he deserves it.”

When Monroe didn’t bring the crowd to its feet, Hall and Mensah-Bonsu did, combining for 37 points on perfect 14-for-14 shooting, including several highlight-reel dunks.

After starting slowly and leading by only 38-35 at halftime, GW finally pulled away from the last-place Rams (2-25, 3-13 A-10) midway through the second half. With the score tied at 46 with 11:35 remaining, GW went on a 25-7 run to take an 18-point lead, sparked by a Hall windmill dunk on a fast break.

But it was their defense that allowed the Colonials to open a sizeable lead. Fordham shot nearly 64 percent in the first half to top GW’s 61 percent, but the Colonials shut down Fordham’s inside game when they needed to and held the Rams to just 34 percent shooting in the second half.

“The intensity of our defense was very good, particularly around the 10-minute mark,” Hobbs said. “We played with more aggressiveness and a sense of urgency, and with more desperation. We kept them off the boards and scored some baskets in transition during that stretch.”

Mensah-Bonsu and sophomore point guard T.J. Thompson converted on two alley-oop slam dunks and Monroe added a fast-break slam during the run.

Looking ahead to the tournament, Hobbs said his team’s offensive production has been steady, but that the Colonials will have to execute well on defense if they want to extend their season. He was also emphatic about his optimism for the team in light of the scandals dominating the headlines in college basketball in the past week.

“As far as Coach Hobbs is concerned, we’re winning big time,” he said. “Because I know one thing, you’re not reading about our players doing some of the things other people are doing.”

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