If the GW men’s basketball team needed a pick-me-up after losing big at Wake Forest last week, this was it. In their home opener Saturday, the Colonials defeated Morgan State University 94-70.
However, the Bears were no pushover, keeping the game close most of the way. Morgan State (0-3) held a one-point halftime lead before the Colonials (1-1) pulled away in the second half.
GW battled without the services of junior forward Mike Hall, who sprained the medial collateral ligament in his knee late in last Monday’s loss. In an interview during the game, Hall said he expects to be back in one to two weeks.
“I think we came out real aggressive in the first half,” said senior T.J. Thompson, who had 14 points Saturday. “It was our first home game and we were excited. I think in the second half we calmed down and came out and played basketball.”
Out of the gate, the Colonials’ performance was fast-paced but often sloppy against a team that went 10-15 last season. GW and Morgan State each committed 10 first-half turnovers and converted several breakaway lay-ups off steals.
Junior forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu jump-started the Colonials in the first half by scoring 13 points in the first eight minutes. He ended up with 21 on the day.
With 12:23 left in the first half, GW jumped out to a 21-14 lead, which Morgan State quickly turned around. The Colonials’ defense allowed the Bears to shoot 60 percent from the field in the first half and take a 45-44 lead at the break.
A major part of the Bears’ first-half attack was courtesy of forward Sam Brand. Brand had 18 first-half points, including four three-point field goals. Brand was curtailed somewhat after the break, scoring nine in the second half to end up with 27 points, leading all scorers.
“He just got open,” said sophomore J.R. Pinnock, who led GW with 23 points. “It was kind of like Princeton style. He kept back cutting us and he was eventually going to get open.”
The second half showed a re-energized Colonial squad. After going on a 14-3 run after the break, the Colonials showed their high-octane offense by keeping the lead for nearly 19 minutes of the half.
GW also put together its best defensive half of the year so far Saturday, holding Morgan State to under 31 percent shooting in the second after the Bears scored 44 points in the first. Mensah-Bonsu, who struggled against Wake Forest last week, had a much better game, especially on defense.
“I like the fact that (Mensah-Bonsu) wasn’t out of position on the defensive end,” head coach Karl Hobbs said. “We know the guy can score. We want to make sure that defensively he is where he needs to be, particularly off penetration.”
The versatile and physical Pinnock filled the void left by the injured Hall. He worked both ends of the floor while hitting post-up jump shots and providing a commanding force in the paint.
“I really don’t think we had too many adjustments today,” Hobbs said. “I felt that J.R. played so well and we really didn’t miss Mike a whole lot,” Hobbs said.
While Morgan State did not pose nearly the challenge that Wake Forest did, Hobbs said the game showed improvement from his players.
“I think we are a work in progress,” he said. “Every game we get better. I think we played well with each other today.”