CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Before the days of a ranked GW men’s basketball team, head coach Karl Hobbs used to shrug off home wins, stating that his team’s success would be validated with consistent wins in hostile Atlantic 10 arenas.
Two down, only a few more to go in those arenas.
“Three years ago, this team would’ve lost that game,” Hobbs said Saturday afternoon after GW beat A-10 newcomer Charlotte.
Sophomore Maureece Rice was still a Philadelphia high school star three years ago. Rice, who barely had the opportunity to play on an unranked GW squad, played the best game of his short tenure with a career-high 21 points and five assists and no turnovers in 28 minutes of play, leading the No. 16/18 (AP/USA Today) Colonials to a key 83-69 road victory over Charlotte in front of 7,562 hostile fans. The win brings GW to 14-1 and 4-0 in the A-10 and ties the school record for the second-best start in history.
“The young guy is just stepping up,” Hobbs said of Rice. “Whenever we need a big play or big score, he stepped up and made the play. But more importantly, he made great decisions with the basketball and I thought that was the difference. We kind of expect him to score. That’s kind of what his trick is, and I thought he made great decisions with the ball.”
Charlotte head coach Bobby Lutz, whose 49ers is 3-4 at home, said he expects his team to feel bad after losing.
“I hope we’re demoralized right now,” Lutz said. “We lost.”
Charlotte, which has made six NCAA tournaments since 1998, was chosen to finish second in the A-10 before the season began. The Colonials seemed to leave that thought at home. A balanced attack, led by GW’s powerful backcourt, keyed in the road win that many onlookers believed GW could lose. The guard duo, which was named by Sports Illustrated as the seventh best in the nation, proved integral in Saturday’s victory. Junior Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock had 13 points on 3-of-10 shooting while classmate Carl Elliott had 10 points and five rebounds. The pair combined for four of the team’s 11 turnovers.
Senior Pops Mensah-Bonsu went 4-for-6 from the floor and grabbed four rebounds en route to 10 points in 21 minutes. Mensah-Bonsu was efficient on the defensive end, holding Charlotte’s Curtis Withers to nine points on 2-for-9 shooting. Withers averaged 17.7 points per game before Saturday.
Marcus Bennett had 13 points for Charlotte (11-7, 4-2 A-10), while Leemire Goldwire put in 10 points. GW held Charlotte to 28.6 percent shooting in the first half before ending with 36.1 percent for the game.
“We didn’t play at the level we need to beat GW or Xavier,” Lutz said.
Free-throw shooting was atrocious on both ends of the ball with the 49ers connecting on 66.7 percent while GW hit 64.9. Mensah-Bonsu and Withers, a much-heralded matchup between two conference elites, were a combined 6-for-16 from the line.
Charlotte connected on 11-of-30 three pointers, four from Alexander, three from Goldwire and three from Bennett. GW cooled down from beyond the arc, connecting on five-of-17 three’s for 29.4 percent, down from the season average of 36 percent.
In one of GW’s most physical contests of the season, Charlotte could not hold down the paint. Despite out-rebounding GW, Charlotte scored 16 points near the hoop compared to GW’s 38.
The Colonials dominated throughout the contest, holding their last lead at 4-2 with 16:26 remaining in the first half. GW’s balanced attack trumped Charlotte’s lopsided scoring, with nine of 10 players who saw court time scoring.
After the intermission, the Colonials did not let the 49ers come closer than 55-40 with 14:09 remaining in the game.
Lutz allowed GW to take the largest lead of the contest on a technical foul at 12:54. Pinnock got fouled on a pullup jumper and Lutz showed his frustration by yelling in the direction of the officials’ observer on the opposite sideline. He was called for a technical foul and Pinnock drained his two free throws to give the Colonials a 58-44 lead. Rice sank the two free throws from the technical.
Lutz would not comment on the job of the officials after the contest.
GW travels to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to face A-10 cellar-dweller Duquesne, whom they haven’t lost to since Feb. 19, 2003.