The GW team basketball pundits have been lauding showed up Saturday in the No. 14/15 Colonials’ 81-62 come-from-behind win over Rhode Island in front of 5,000 Smith Center fans.
Senior Pops Mensah-Bonsu, the preseason All-American candidate, played like the player whose name was tossed around in June’s NBA draft, with 17 points and 12 rebounds. Junior Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock, a game-changing swingman, had 18 points, and backcourt mate Carl Elliott put in 13.
In the second half, all the individual pieces seemed to click a much-improved Rhode Island (11-7, 5-2 A-10) team that sits in second place in the Atlantic 10 standings. The Colonials’ (16-1, 6-0 A-10) experience, which GW head coach Karl Hobbs has been touting all season, triumphed and erased a six-point halftime deficit that increased in the second half to as many as eight with 19:33 left in the game.
Hobbs said the language he used with his team at halftime may not be appropriate for public consumption.
“I told them to settle down and they need to relax,” Hobbs, who picked up a technical foul in the first half, said. “I wanted to assure them that I was under control. They were playing the way I was acting. I am acting. That’s exactly what I was doing.”
Speaking about the Rams, Hobbs said, “They got some momentum going. That’s a good basketball team. That’s a tough basketball team. Tough-minded.”
If the Rams are tough-minded, the minds of the GW players could bend a spoon. The Colonials played seven players Saturday with NCAA tournament experience compared to a Rhode Island team that won six games last season.
Hobbs said he thought that the amount of players he was able to shuffle in the lineup helped GW trump the Rams.
He said, “I think it was just a matter of us having a great deal of depth and just sort of wearing them down. I think that was the key to the game today. I think we played eight, nine, 10 people in the second half. I really thought that was the difference.”
Before the season, the buzz surrounding GW was anchored with the return of Mensah-Bonsu. Until last week, it looked as though the 6-foot-9 forward was an insignificant piece of the Colonials’ successful puzzle.
With back-to-back double-doubles and a seven-game Colonials winning streak, Mensah-Bonsu’s brilliance is beginning to show, not surprising to his teammates.
“Pops is playing like the monster he is,” Pinnock said. “He’s starting to attack the glass. I think he just got off to a slow start with the suspension earlier in the year. He is just starting to get into his groove. Nothing he is doing out there is surprising us because we see it every day.”
Dawan Robinson, one of Rhode Island’s most dangerous pieces, had 19 points, including eight from the charity stripe. Jimmy Baron, son of Rams’ head coach Jim Baron, had 11 points and Maryland native Jamaal Wise finished with 10.
Sophomore Regis Koundjia put in eight points and pulled down eight rebounds. Hobbs anticipated Koundjia’s slow progression into GW’s system.
“He was fantastic today,” Hobbs said. “He’s a kid I’ve talked a lot about. It was a matter of time before he was going to show his talent.”
Sitting as one of four teams with one loss (Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Duke being the others), GW will travel to Cincinnati Thursday to face A-10 foe Xavier. At 16-1, Hobbs said he is not where he wants to be at this point of the season.
“I like to see us shoot a little bit better from the three-point line, I like to see us continue to do a little better job on the offensive rebound,” Hobbs said. “We have a very, very big challenge in that particular stat at Xavier. They are much bigger and stronger than us.”
GW is now faced with the unavoidable prospect of breaking into the top 10 of college basketball for the first time since Jan. 3, 1956. Hobbs said he wants nothing to do with those notions.
“We’re not paying attention to any of that foolishness,” Hobbs said. “What we’re paying attention to is that we want Pops to get double-digit rebounds. I want J.R. to take better shots. I want (senior forward) Mike Hall to take control of this team defensively. I want (senior forward) Omar (Williams) to step it up and be more aggressive. We’re not caring about being in the top 20. I want to make that clear.”