Updated Saturday Feb. 12 6:49 P.M.
The GW men’s basketball team has had problems with Richmond in recent years. Coach Jerry Wainwright’s quickly changing defensive style and disciplined play has led to four Spiders’ victories in their last six match-ups with the Colonials.
But Saturday things changed, as GW finally solved Richmond, posting an 80-63 win in front of a sellout crowd of 5,252 at the Smith Center. Junior Pops Mensah-Bonsu led the Colonials with 18 points, while classmate Omar Williams and sophomore J.R. Pinnock each scored 15 points. Junior Mike Hall (11 points, 14 rebounds continued his solid play down low. The win keeps the Colonials in first place of the Atlantic 10 West.
Richmond’s Kevin Steenberge scored a game-high 19 points, but the Spiders (11-11, 6-5 A-10) could not solve the Colonials (15-5, 7-3 A-10), who avoided the season sweep. GW fell to Richmond on the road Jan. 22, 70-59.
Despite the margin of victory, GW coach Karl Hobbs did not take the win lightly. The Colonials had lost to Richmond three straight times dating back to last season, and the Spiders were in Saturday’s game until about midway through the second half.
“It was a very hard fought game,” Hobbs said. “I thought both teams played with a tremendous amount of energy and played hard.”
At the half, the Colonials led 37-34, allowing what was formerly a 13-point-lead dwindle to only three points. Trailing 37-26 with 2:22 left in the half, Richmond went on a 7-0 run that Andre Sandoval (10 points) capped with a three-pointer at the buzzer to put the Spiders within striking distance.
The second half opened on a rough note, as an agitated Karl Hobbs was assessed a technical foul. After Jamal Scott hit one of two free throws, Steenberge followed up a Courtney Nelson miss to tie the game at 37.
GW then responded with a 12-4 run to go up 49:41 with about 15:00 left in the game. Richmond was able to pull within six points with 13:23 remaining, but freshman Maureece Rice drained a three-pointer to bring the lead back to nine.
“One of the biggest baskets of the day was when Maureece came in and hit a big three,” Hobbs said. “We were struggling at that time. He hit a big shot.”
The Colonials were careful with the basketball, committing only 10 turnovers, 14 less than their last game against Richmond.
“I think part of the loss at Richmond was us not being our selves,” Mensah-Bonsu said. “Some of the turnovers were up a heads and out of bounds. I don’t think it was so much their pressure but I think today a big part of the win was we only had 10 turnovers.”
Earlier this year, Hobbs said GW’s success can often be attributed to jumping out to an early first half lead. His squad did just that, as they were able to get their game going early and jump out to a 13-point lead before Richmond made its run late.
But, Hobbs said, his team’s play at the end of the half has crippled them all season.
“Trust me, I wasn’t pleased at all about how we ended the half,” Hobbs said. “That’s something we’ve worked on and we are going to get it right. I promise.”
“We settled down, we stopped taking the rushed shots, and we were able to finish some plays,” he added. “We were able to eliminate their getting points in transition. They got a lot of lay-ups. I thought that was a difference.”
Unlike the last meeting with Richmond, the Colonials were able to get out on fast breaks. The key, Pinnock said, is to take care of the ball but still play an up-tempo game.
“When we play fast, we don’t turn the ball over that much. That’s what we do,” Pinnock said. “When we get outside of our selves and try to play in the half court the whole time, that’s when we get in trouble.”
The victory was significant, Hobbs said, because Richmond has been where GW wants to be.
“When you look at these guys, they have a bunch of guys with NCAA tournament experience,” said Hobbs. “They know what its like to come into this building and win. They understand what it takes to win. They advantage they had over us is they have guys who know how to win. We are learning what it takes to do that.”
The Colonials return to action on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Smith Center against Fordham.