Rookies key comeback at Charlotte

The GW men’s basketball team suffered from a major lack of depth last season, often dropping close games due to late fatigue, but GW head coach Karl Hobbs has said a strong recruiting class will solve that problem. And if the Colonials’ season-opening 80-76 victory over the University of North Carolina-Charlotte Friday night is any indication, he may be right.

The 2003-04 campaign began in Charlotte, N.C., with late-game heroics from two freshman guards. After J.R. Pinnock’s driving lay-up put the Colonials ahead 76-74 with 31 seconds left in regulation, Carl Elliott stole the ball from the 49ers’ Brendan Plavich and called timeout, forcing Charlotte to foul after the inbound pass. Free throws from freshman Lafonte Johnson and junior T.J. Thompson sealed it for GW.

“Last year’s team would’ve folded in a close game like this,” said forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who had 14 points and seven rebounds. “Coach Hobbs has been talking about establishing an identity this year. We showed poise in tough sequences and we pulled it out.”

The season may be young but the opening performance was significant because the Colonials won on the road against a solid Charlotte team that Sports Illustrated ranked the 31st best squad in the nation.

GW will have to get used to playing in Charlotte because the 49ers will join the Atlantic 10 in two years. The Colonials struggled on the road last year and did not pick up a conference win away from the Smith Center until the A-10 Tournament in March.

“There was a big crowd cheering against us,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “Freshmen played a lot of minutes, but we stuck together.”

The Colonials’ depth and balance showed throughout the game, as four GW players finished in double figures and nine Colonials logged 10 minutes or more. Thompson led the Colonials with 19 points, while Elliott and Johnson finished with 12 and 10 points, respectively.

“With our style, we can wear teams down,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “We’re always sending in a fresh guy at every position.”

Before the season started, Hobbs stressed the importance of a rested Thompson at the end of games. The guard ended up logging 36 minutes, though they did not appear to affect him when he hit key free throws at the end.

Despite holding the 49ers to under 37 percent shooting, Mensah-Bonsu said the team still needs to improve on the defensive end.

The Colonials open their home schedule Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. against Florida International University.

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