Was this one ever really in doubt? Playing its own version of the hack-a-Shaq defense, Duquesne hung around for a little while Saturday afternoon.
But it just delayed the inevitable, as the Dukes’ 14 first-half fouls did not hamper the GW men’s basketball team, which built a double-digit lead before intermission and cruised to its fifth straight win, an 80-57 blowout in front of 4,144 quieter-than-usual fans at the Smith Center.
Senior T.J. Thompson and junior Omar Williams led GW (17-5, 9-3 Atlantic 10) with 15 points each, as four Colonials finished in double figures. Junior Pops Mensah-Bonsu (13 points, 7 rebounds) showed off a few nice post moves to go along with his usual array of dunks, and sophomore J.R. Pinnock had another strong showing, scoring 12 points on an efficient 4-for-7 shooting.
“We just did a good job of focusing and executing what we were supposed to do in this game,” said junior forward Mike Hall (6 points, 6 rebounds). “I guess everything else took care of itself.”
The Dukes (6-19, 3-9) did have a short-lived 9-5 lead before freshman guard Maureece Rice (9 points, 4 assists) sparked GW’s early offensive charge with a pretty pass to Williams, whose converted dunk cut the deficit to two points and woke up the dormant crowd.
Then, after a steal, Thompson played quarterback, lofting a 20-yard floater to Rice, who quickly shoveled the ball back to a streaking Pinnock, who completed the hook-and-lateral play with a dunk/foul shot combo to put the Colonials up 10-9 six minutes into the game. They would lead the rest of the way.
While Rice has not been the scoring machine he was in high school, he has picked his spots and hit big shots when his team has needed a lift. Hobbs pointed to a particular moment in the first half, when the Dukes were surviving GW kill shots.
With his team leading 22-17 at the 7:07 mark, Rice drained a three-pointer to put the Colonials up by eight. Duquesne cut the lead to six once more, but the freshman’s dagger began a 17-12 run that gave GW a 39-29 halftime lead, which they added onto with a dominating offensive performance in the second.
As the team’s lone rookie on scholarship, a group of veterans has taken him under his wing.
“When he goes into the game, we really try to encourage him to make plays,” GW head coach Karl Hobbs said. “The nice part about Maureece is that the guys just enjoy playing with him. He’s almost like the team’s little brother.”
Rice is just one cog in Hobbs’ system, which has worked smoothly recently.
“One of their strengths,” Duquesne coach Danny Nee said, is “they have interchangeable parts. Everyone knows they’re not starting their best five.” Both Pinnock and Mensah-Bonsu came off the bench in the win.
Winners of five in a row, GW is well over its mid-season slump. Hobbs’ squad seems to be peaking at the right time – the Colonials will head to Ohio to face Xavier Wednesday and Dayton Saturday.
“I think the team has made the adjustment to expectations,” Hobbs said. “I think the team struggled at times. We got out of the gates fairly well and we got into the Top 25 and all of a sudden everyone’s coming at us.”
After beating the Musketeers 59-55 Saturday, Dayton (15-8, 8-4 A-10) sits alone in second place in the A-10 West, one game behind GW. Xavier (13-10, 7-5 A-10), which beat the Colonials on a last-second three-pointer on Jan. 25, is in third place.
To succeed this week, Hobbs’ players will have to clamp down defensively like they did against Duquesne (6-19, 3-9), which shot only 35 percent from the field. Also, Hobbs said he’s “expecting 40 minutes of zone” from the Musketeers, so the Colonials will be forced to adjust. Saturday, GW picked apart the Dukes’ zone – racking up 48 points in the paint in a fast-paced contest.
Despite GW’s current hot streak, Hobbs did not sound overconfident about this week’s Ohio road trip.
“One thing about this team,” he said of the Colonials, who have never won at Xavier in his tenure. “They never make you feel comfortable.”