The last time the GW men’s basketball team lost to St. Francis (Pa.), coach Karl Hobbs was a freshman at the University of Connecticut under head coach Dom Perno. Not one player on the Colonials’ roster is old enough to remember that day, but they played Wednesday night like they did not want to let history repeat itself.
A trademark late-game scoring spurt coupled with intensified defense eradicated a halftime tie and propelled the No. 19/22 (AP/USA Today) Colonials to a 85-68 victory in a game where GW struggled on the defensive end. The Red Flash shot 65 percent in the first half but only managed 37 percent in the second half in front of a crowd of 2,416 at the Smith Center.
Junior Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock said that when his squad gets down, they build on their physicality to beat their opponent.
“Like coach always says we want to run the other team down,” Pinnock said. “We might get you early, we might get you late, but eventually we are going to get you. That’s just the way we play.”
Before Wednesday night, the GW men’s basketball team had not trailed at any point in their first two games, but the Red Flash, a team that has yet to play a ranked opponent, knew the Colonials’ style.
“We knew coming into tonight the caliber of basketball we would be playing in George Washington,” St. Francis head coach Bobby Jones said. “Coach Hobbs has done a fantastic job bringing in talent and they’re very deep.”
Jones cited GW’s depth and physicality as the squad’s major strong points.
“They have guys who can play most of the positions and they just run them in and out,” Jones said. “Their fours and fives are as fast as our ones and twos.”
The Colonials played an abysmal first half, shooting 50 percent from the floor and allowing St. Francis to take advantage of their defensive struggles. The St. Francis zone defense also suffocated the Colonials’ normal up-tempo style. The Red Flash never had the lead in the first half, but knotted up the game five times.
Despite GW traditionally having a problem of playing down to lower-level opponents, Hobbs did not see GW’s first-half blunders as a result of that tendency.
“I thought that we lost our patience in the first half defensively,” Hobbs said. “Once we settled down, we stopped gambling, we started defending a little better and we tried to limit Grant’s shot attempts.”
In the second half, GW took time to settle down and stop gambling. With 18:38 left in the game, a jumper by J.R. Enright gave St. Francis their first lead of the game and the Colonials their first deficit of the season.
With just under 15 minutes remaining in the game, St. Francis was down 53-50. The Colonials were able to turn on the switch that started their trademark run that gave them the game. GW went on a 21-4 run that lasted 10 minutes.
Offensively, GW had their lowest-scoring game of the year. Junior Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock went 10-for-14 from the floor in his 20-point performance while sophomore Maureece Rice scored a career-high 16 points. Senior Mike Hall continued his strong play with 15 points and eight rebounds. Classmate Omar Williams chipped in with 13 points and five rebounds.
The Colonials’ freshmen continue to be an integral piece of a yet-undefined GW puzzle. Montrell McDonald had seven points and six rebounds in 25 minutes while Rob Diggs had six points.
“I’m hoping that they continue to do that,” Hobbs said of his three freshmen. “They are brining good energy and are doing a great job giving J.R. a blow, giving Omar and Mike a blow. When they go in, we don’t seem to lose our level of intensity.”
St. Francis got a game-high 26 points from freshman guard Grant Surprenant. He came into the game averaging three points nailed five three-pointers.
In the one day of practice before Boston University visits the Smith Center in the first Friday night game in recent memory, the Colonials must work out the kinks of a team that has not developed a style.
Senior Pops Mensah-Bonsu will return to the lineup after a three-game suspension. Hobbs does not anticipate any stumbling blocks with Mensah-Bonsu’s re-entrance.
“We can’t wait for him,” Hobbs said. “I’m going to sleep a little easier tonight knowing he’ll be available on Friday. He is a terrific, terrific offensive player. He is a terrific finisher.”
Hobbs classified the BU game as a “battle of wits.” He said he thinks the Terriers’ style is similar to the way St. Francis played.
“BU is a very tough team,” Hobbs, a former BU assistant coach, said. “It’s going to be a physical kind of a game.”