Sophomore Mike Hall knows that playing tough defense makes life easier on the offense. And after GW beat La Salle 74-57 at the Smith Center Saturday, he credited that formula with the victory, which extended the Colonials’ winning streak to three games and kept them undefeated at home.
“We focus on defense and stopping a team,” Hall said. “That gives us a lot of leeway on the offensive end. We don’t have as much pressure on every possession.”
Because of an aggressive defense, the Colonials (9-6, 3-1 Atlantic 10) often found themselves in situations with little pressure – wide open fast breaks. A Smith Center crowd of 3,186 fans watched GW repeatedly push the ball up the floor on changes of possession, which created opportunities for easy lay-ups and flashy dunks. GW outscored La Salle 16-2 in fast break points.
Those easy baskets helped the Colonials – who rank second in the A-10 in scoring at more than 75 points per game – shoot 60 percent from the floor while holding the Explorers to 39 percent shooting. GW’s defense held La Salle guard Gary Neal, the 2003 A-10 Rookie of the Year, to 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting.
Freshman guard J.R. Pinnock and Hall shadowed Neal during the game, often denying him the ball and forcing him to take off-balanced shots. While holding Neal in check, Pinnock had his best offensive game of the season, leading GW with a career-high 21 points.
“When you play against the best, you want to give it your best effort,” Pinnock said of playing against Neal.
The win moved the Colonials into second place in the A-10 West behind the Dayton Flyers, who are undefeated in league play. GW will have a chance to move into first place in the division when it plays at Dayton Wednesday at 7 p.m., though the Colonials have not beaten Dayton since 1999.
The Explorers hung with GW at the beginning of the first half, as turnovers prevented the Colonials from extending their lead past single digits. Leading 21-17 with 11 minutes left in half, the Colonials went on a 12-0 run to build a 33-17 lead with less than five minutes to go. They went into the break with a 41-28 advantage.
La Salle used an 11-5 run immediately following halftime to cut the lead to 46-39 four minutes into the half, but that was as close as the Explorers would get. The Colonials’ lead hovered around 10 points until they went on a 14-3 run to build a 74-53 lead with less than three minutes remaining.
GW Head Coach Karl Hobbs said he was pleased with his team’s effort, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
“I think that we’re starting to play defense consistently,” he said. “It’s part of growing as a team. I think our offense was a little bit ahead of our defense, but our defense is slowly catching up.”
In wins over La Salle, Massachusetts and Temple, GW gave up 57, 61 and 60 points, respectively. In comparison, the Colonials allowed an average of almost 82 points per game during their four-game losing streak over winter break.
Before the game, the Smith Center crowd observed a moment of silence for former GW basketball star Yinka Dare, who died of a heart attack last Friday.