Gonzaga senior Blake Stepp caught everyone’s attention Saturday with a 27-point shooting display in the Bulldogs’ win over Maryland, including the GW coaching staff, which challenged point guard T.J. Thompson to shut down Stepp on Sunday. And Thompson responded, holding the 2003 Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year to just five points.
Unfortunately for the Colonials, they did not have the same success against Gonzaga’s frontcourt players, as the No. 17 Bulldogs scored 50 points in the paint to beat GW, 96-91, in the championship game of the BB&T Classic in front of 11,025 at the MCI Center.
GW (5-2) reached the final after defeating West Virginia University, 70-64, Saturday. Head Coach Karl Hobbs called the weekend a “learning experience” and said his team deserves credit for playing hard and shutting down the Bulldogs’ perimeter shooting, even if Gonzaga’s inside presence was too much.
“There are only so many things you can take away (from Gonzaga),” Hobbs said.
Gonzaga’s Ronny Turiaf, the tournament MVP, scored most of his career-high 29 points on short jumpers and lay-ups. Turiaf, a 6-foot-8-inch power forward, helped the Bulldogs shoot 66 percent from the field and nearly 73 percent in the second half.
“Our focus for each and every game is that we attack inside and out,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “We did a great job of getting the ball to our ‘bigs’ (Saturday), but they didn’t finish strong. But they are great at adjusting, and they came back and had great post presence.”
In the loss, Thompson played one of his best games in a GW uniform, scoring a career-high 28 points despite scoring just five points in the second half. The junior also found a way to keep Stepp under wraps, holding him to just three field goal attempts.
“(Saturday) night, the coaches challenged me,” Thompson said. “They wanted me to contain their point guard, so I took it personally and tried to defend him as well as I could.”
Thompson found his stroke early, hitting six of his seven three-pointers in the first half and scoring 22 before the break. GW built a 47-40 lead with less than five minutes remaining in the first, but Gonzaga tied the game 47-47 with 50 seconds left in the half on repeated easy baskets and free throws. Thompson added his sixth three-pointer and freshman guard Ricky Lucas made two free throws with no time on the clock to give the Colonials a 52-47 lead at the break.
The lead did not last long for the Colonials, though, as they could not stop Gonzaga down low. The Bulldogs went on a 34-15 run to take a commanding 81-67 lead with less than nine minutes to play in the game. GW also lost a valuable inside presence when forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu fouled out on a technical foul with 7:56 left in the game.
The Colonials cut the lead to single digits several times down the stretch, but the outcome of the game was not really in question late in the second half, as Turiaf and the rest of the Gonzaga big men were unrelenting. Center Cory Violette and forward Adam Morrison each had 10 points in the win.
Both Mensah-Bonsu and Thompson were named to the all-tournament team. The Colonials will face Towson Wednesday night at the Smith Center at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 6
GW 70, West Virginia 64
The GW men’s basketball team let double-digit leads slip away in Wednesday’s loss at Appalachian State University and Saturday’s match-up with West Virginia University. But the results of both games were very different, as GW fought off the Mountaineers’ comeback to take the opening game of the BB&T Classic, 70-64.
The Colonials surrendered leads of 18 and 12 points against the Mountaineers, but in the end the game rested in the hands of freshman Carl Elliott. The guard drove through heavy traffic, got fouled and made an acrobatic lay-in to put his team up 66-62 with 28.6 seconds to play. He sealed the game with a free throw.
“The key to the game is that we stayed poised,” sophomore forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu said. “Coach (Karl Hobbs) said they would make a run. It came, and we just stayed together.”
Mensah-Bonsu and fellow sophomore Mike Hall dominated the glass on both ends of the floor, each grabbing 11 rebounds. As a team, GW out-rebounded West Virginia (2-2) 44-32, which created opportunities for tip-ins and lay-ups off missed jump shots. Mensah-Bonsu took advantage of the inside advantage by scoring a team-high 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
“I don’t think there is a team in the country that works harder on rebounding than we do,” West Virginia head coach John Beilein said. “But there isn’t much you can do when a guy can jump like (Mensah-Bonsu) can.”
The Colonials played tough interior defense throughout the first half, building a 29-11 lead while holding West Virginia to only two field goals in the game’s first 10 minutes. The Mountaineers responded with a 12-0 run that cut the lead to six. However, the Colonials ended the half strong, extending their lead to 39-27 on Greg Collucci’s three-pointer as time expired.
The Mountaineers began the second half with a 14-2 run spurred by the inside play of forwards Kevin Pittsnogle and D’or Fischer.
“They’re a good team and they made an adjustment,” GW head coach Karl Hobbs said. “They basically took the ball down and drove right to the basket.”
The Mountaineers took a 45-43 lead with less than 12 minutes to play before the two teams traded baskets during the game’s final few minutes.
Seven Colonials played 18 minutes or more, but junior Tamal Forchion was not one of them. Forchion was not in the starting lineup for the first time this season and played only one minute in the game. Junior Rock Battistoni, who had played only seven minutes all season prior to Saturday, started in his place but played only six minutes himself.
“I woke up this morning and said, ‘I think I’ll start Rock today,'” Hobbs said. “I like the fact that he’s a more experienced guy.”
Hobbs declined to answer repeated questions about the status of Forchion, who actually has one more year of experience than Battistoni and was expected to be a major factor for GW this year. Battistoni played one season for Division III St. Lawrence University before transferring to GW last year. He had two points and one rebound in the game.