PHILADELPHIA – Nursing a double-digit lead with 10 minutes to go in the game Saturday, the GW men’s basketball team remained relentless. Body language said it all:
Mike Hall and J.R. Pinnock bobbed up and down like pogo sticks on defense. Coach Karl Hobbs stomped his foot and frantically directed his players from the sideline. Temple coach John Chaney sat silent on the bench, black tie loosened. And nearly all 6,812 fans at the Liacouras Center re-focused their attention to the Eagles and their Super Bowl chances.
It was that kind of day for the Philly faithful, who watched the Colonials dominate the Owls 74-58. Hobbs’ squad used a stifling half-court trap and lethal outside shooting to over-extend Temple’s trademark zone defense, which opened up the inside for bunches of GW dunks and lay-ins. Once again, junior Pops Mensah-Bonsu wowed the crowd with his jams. He scored only five points, but emphatically capped the Colonials’ win with a thunderous dunk with just over a minute left in the game.
GW (14-5, 6-3 Atlantic 10) opened the game with a T.J. Thompson three-pointer and never trailed. Pinnock, a sophomore, led all scorers with 18 efficient points on 7-for-10 shooting from the floor. Mark Tyndale led Temple (10-9, 6-2 A-10) with 17 points on the afternoon. GW now shares first place in the A-10 West with Dayton, which lost to Richmond Saturday.
The win, Hobbs said, took a lot of pressure off the Colonials, who appear to be on the upswing after a mid-season lull that produced a loss at Richmond, a two-point loss to Massachusetts and a one-point loss to Xavier at home. He conceded that early season wins over Maryland and Michigan State may have been too much for his squad to handle at first.
“There’s been a lot said about our basketball team,” Hobbs said. “Everybody picked us to win the league. Guys are making comments about us having NBA players. The pressure of all that was starting to affect the team to some degree.”
Senior T.J. Thompson (14 points) has seen his team go through various stages of development in his four years. While wins over the Terrapins and Spartans were big for the program, they won’t mean much until postseason play becomes a reality.
“We beat those teams, but since I’ve been here we haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament,” Thompson said. Wins over league powers like Temple will go a long way toward that goal. “We knew what we had to do all week,” Thompson said of his team’s preparation.
Before Saturday, the Colonials had never won at Temple under Hobbs. So, admittedly, he became a man with a plan. To alleviate pressure on his squad, he planned for the Colonials to use some pressure of their own.
“We wanted to use our pressure defense the entire game,” he said, “so that our guys don’t have to think about anything else but getting that ball.”
That mentality worked wonders, as the Colonials used double teams to frustrate the Temple guards and force quick shots. The Owls shot under 34 percent for the game and were a pitiful 4-for-24 from three-point range.
While Chaney credited GW’s defense, he was quick to point out that his team did not stand much of a chance, because quite simply, they couldn’t stop the Colonials’ offense. GW shot 49.1 percent from the field and went 7-for-20 from beyond the arc.
“When you’re making baskets, that answers all the questions,” said Chaney, who cited several players’ flu-like symptoms as reasons for his team’s sluggish play.
The Colonials came out of the gate quick, shooting well and pressuring the ball on defense. Temple had open looks but could not take advantage, as GW’s half-court trap forced guard Mardy Collins to work extra hard for his shots. He scored 11 points in the first half but shot only 4-for-11 from the field and finished with 13 for the game.
A Thompson trey (he had three 3-balls in the first) and a Hall mid-range jumper gave GW a 5-0 lead, as Temple came out sluggish on offense. GW’s shooters took advantage of the Owls over-extended zone. Five minutes into the game, junior Omar Williams’ free throw gave GW a 15-6 lead.
The win was particularly sweet for Williams (13 points) and freshman Maureece Rice (8 points). The Philadelphia natives had family and friends in the stands Saturday.
“It was real fun. I had a lot of family, a lot of friends,” Williams said. “I was excited to come home again. Now I can talk a little trash this summer.”
Temple’s offense continued to sputter in the first, but Hobbs’ squad could not land a kill shot. A major turning point in the game came at the moment the Owls appeared to come alive. After a Collins dunk cut the lead to 30-26 at the 5:17 mark, Temple started to press, a move that backfired immediately.
GW broke the pressure with ease, reeling off a 16-4 run to take a 46-30 halftime lead. After the break, the Colonials did not let up, as the lead never dipped below 13 the rest of the way.
GW will have a week off before facing Richmond Saturday at the Smith Center.