The GW men’s basketball team was hindered by fouls. They were banged up with injuries. Senior Mike Hall characterized the game with Maryland as a “war” and Monday’s BB&T Classic played out as exactly that.
After playing a flurry of no-name teams to open up the season, the No. 19/22 Colonials played stellar defense and put on a display of blue-collar basketball to beat the No. 20/23 (AP/USA Today) University of Maryland Terrapins 78-70 despite shooting only 38.5 percent from the floor. The Colonials’ (5-0) defense forced 25 Terrapin (5-2) turnovers, while GW committed 16 turnovers of their own. The last time GW started out 5-0, they finished their season with a loss to the University of Michigan, an eventual Final Four team, in the Sweet 16 in 1993.
Maryland head coach Gary Williams said GW’s play was equal to other teams’ his squad has played this season.
“They are on par certainly with some of the teams we’ve faced so far like Gonzaga and they proved that last year,” Gary Williams said. “This is the first tough game for them and they did a good job.”
In front of a half-capacity MCI Center crowd of 11,712, Sophomore Maureece Rice had a career-high 19 points. Junior Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock matched Rice’s points total and added three assists and one steal. Senior Mike Hall had his second straight double-double, the 19th of his career. His game was well-rounded with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Junior Carl Elliott had 11 points and played one of the most physical games of his career.
Hobbs said he was elated with the play of Elliott and Rice.
“I think Maureece Rice and Carl Elliott deserve a medal tonight,” Hobbs said. “We had one guy with blood on the floor, and we left blood tonight. We had a guy that got stitched up at halftime, and that was Carl Elliott. We had Maureece Rice with cramps. Those guys showed a terrific amount of courage.”
Hall, who seems to have filled the role as the emotional leader of GW, spurred the Colonials’ attack at several points throughout the contest.
“I thought a lot of guys stepped up at different times,” Hobbs said. “Mike Hall was an iron man tonight. He played the whole second half, we couldn’t take him out. He got big rebounds, he did a terrific job with his defense and we had him pressing then sprinting back to get rebounds.”
Senior Pops Mensah-Bonsu had nine points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes of play. The 6-foot-9 forward fouled out of the game with 6:49 remaining and GW up 63-58. It was his second game back from a three-game suspension for violating unspecified NCAA rules.
“He was really struggling in terms of getting a feel for the game,” Hobbs said of Mensah-Bonsu, a preseason all-American candidate. “This is tough for him because this is only his second game, second game of the season you throw him in against those tough guys and let me tell you something, those are some tough guys.”
Chris McCray led Maryland with 21 points while James Gist had 11. Nik Caner-Medley and D.J. Strawberry had 10 points each. Maryland managed 45.3 percent from the floor and 55.6 percent in the second half.
The physicality of the Terrapins forced the Colonials into significant foul trouble, which led to the limited availability of players such as Pinnock, Rice, Elliott and Omar Williams. All four major contributors played with four fouls.
“They’re just too physical for us inside,” Hobbs said of Maryland’s size. “They’re trying to convert some guys to a point guard, so we really wanted them to have to make decisions and to have to make decisions at a quick speed. I thought that was the difference in the game for us.”
With 14:51 remaining, GW held a 44-38 lead. Mensah-Bonsu drove to the basket and Caner-Medley took charge. Mensah-Bonsu left the game on his fourth foul and Maryland started to eat away at GW’s six-point lead. McCray hit three 3-pointers in 45 seconds to knot the game at 51.
The Colonials called a 30-second timeout that was immediately followed by a media timeout. The breaks seemed to calm GW’s nerves, and they went on a 12-5 run to open up a seven-point lead.
Maryland would not relent and cut the lead to 63-62 after Caner-Medly and Ekene Ibekwe connected on two layups. GW controlled the pace of the game after that, on a layup by Pinnock and two free throws by Omar Williams. The lead did not dip below four for the remainder of the contest.
Hobbs said that after the win, he hopes area fans pay more mind to the Foggy Bottom crew. “All that I know is that we’re trying to be D.C.’s college basketball team,” Hobbs said. “If you live in the District, you have a team to root for. And that’s what we’re trying to be. In addition to trying to defend our Atlantic 10 championship we’re trying to get ourselves in a position to have a special season.”
The men’s next game is Thursday against Florida International at 7:30 p.m. in the Smith Center.