WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The GW men’s basketball team swallowed a bitter reality pill Monday night. In the fourth season-opener of coach Karl Hobbs’ tenure, No. 2 Wake Forest handed the Colonials a 97-76 loss in the first round of the preseason National Invitation Tournament.
In front of 13,065 fans at the Lawrence Joel Coliseum, sophomore guard Chris Paul scored 25 points and had six assists and three steals in a game that did not turn into a blowout until late in the second half. GW (0-1) trailed 75-70 with just under eight minutes to go before the Demon Deacons (1-0) implemented a stifling triangle-and-two zone defense that helped force eight turnovers. In the midst of GW’s offensive ineptitude, Wake Forest cranked out a 22-6 run to end any chance of an upset.
The game exposed the Colonials’ weaknesses – namely turnovers, of which the Colonials amassed 25. But junior forward Mike Hall said the game was not a completely negative experience, citing that “several publications” have picked Wake Forest to win this year’s national championship.
“We definitely learned a lot about our character,” said Hall, who had a double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds). “We battled adversity because the crowd was amazing. We handled that well, and I feel like there was a solid gap (between the two teams) but it wasn’t that big.”
Paul almost single-handedly created the biggest gap between the two teams, as the Colonials had no answer for him down the stretch. The slashing six-foot guard was a force inside and out, going 7-for-12 from the floor and 10-for-12 from the line.
“He reminds me of (former St. Joseph’s guard Jameer Nelson) just because he’s extremely fast,” Hall said. “You can’t really simulate his quickness unless you’re out on the floor with him. That was the main part we didn’t adjust to that well.” Hobbs was not so contemplative.
“They said he’s the best,” he said of Paul. “And he’s the best.”
“I thought pure and simple that Paul took the game over,” he added. “Any time a team shoots (55.7) percent in their building, an ACC team that’s picked to go to the Final Four, you’re going to lose.”
After shooting well in the first half (46.7 percent), the Colonials cooled down considerably, going 11-for-33 from the field in the second and 39.7 percent for the game.
Offensively, senior guard T.J. Thompson stayed with Paul in the first half, scoring 12 to Paul’s 14 before the break. Paul, however, got the best of Thompson in the second, scoring 11 points to the GW guard’s four.
Facing a preseason All-American was not an easy task for Thompson, who led GW scorers with 16 points.
“He’s a great player who pushes the ball 90 miles an hour all the time,” Thompson said.
At times, it looked like GW needed to slow down. The Colonials’ 25 turnovers were only part of the story. They made several mental errors that did not show up on the stat sheet.
“We’re still a young basketball team and I thought the youth in us showed,” Hobbs said. “When we didn’t need to take a quick shot, we took a quick shot. (Junior forward) Pops Mensah-Bonsu never, even in practice, dribbles the ball up the floor, and he’s trying to dribble the ball in traffic. We had too many mental breakdowns, and we need to correct that. And correct that in a hurry.”
Fatigue was also a factor down the stretch. Hobbs said the Wake Forest defensive effort took a physical toll on his team.
“No question about it,” he said. “One of the things that happened when (GW) got it to (75-70), they scored a couple baskets and you saw our guys, they couldn’t even fall on the ball. I thought the physical difference, their physicality, I thought it really came into play.”
Several times throughout the second half, the Colonials weathered runs that gave the Deacons leads of 12, 13 and 14 points. They put dents in the lead but never got over the hump.
The most glaring instance came when GW trailed 71-58 with 12:22 left in the game. Less than three minutes later, a three-pointer by sophomore guard Carl Elliott (nine points) capped a 12-5 GW run that cut the lead to five before Wake’s defense took over.
The Colonials kept Wake Forest in check early in the game. Three times in the first half, the Deacons built leads of seven points, once extending the lead to eight points before the Colonials quieted the crowd.