Will Dempster: Final score of Rhode Island game doesn’t tell whole story

The final score in GW’s home win against the Rhode Island Rams was somewhat misleading. Although the Colonials registered an 81-62 victory, the game was very close until a commanding GW run over the game’s last 10 minutes put it out of reach. Still, though, there were many aspects of the game that provided compelling storylines.

Tale of two teams

Although the Colonials ultimately triumphed over the Rhode Island Rams by an impressive 19-point margin, the storyline of the game was as much GW’s lackluster performance in the game’s middle 20 minutes as it was its excellence in the first and last 10. After building an impressive 23-11 lead eight minutes into the game, the Colonials’ defense collapsed – enabling a Rhode Island run to create an 11-point deficit before GW closed it to a six-point shortfall at the break.

The first 10 minutes of the second half were not much better. Although the Colonials quickly closed the six-point gap, a series of defensive snafus and poor decisions on offense prevented them from putting any distance between themselves and their opponents. That all changed at the 9:39 mark when GW used a 29-8 run to completely annihilate the Rams.

In four years, I have never seen anything as impressive as what GW did to Rhode Island in the game’s final 10 minutes. The Colonials used a stifling full-court press to create a number of turnovers in the backcourt that led to a number of easy buckets. GW forced Rhode Island into taking a bevy of terrible shots that resulted in the Rams’ pitiful 18.5 percent shooting for the half.

The remarkable thing about this game is that GW only needed 10 minutes of its best basketball to completely dismantle the team with the second-best record in the Atlantic 10. If GW could put together a full game at this intensity – or the similarly impressive level at which the team played in the first half against Saint Joseph’s – the Colonials could set a new benchmark for the program’s greatness.

Pops is back

After a suspension, two sprained ankles and a number of foul-laden games, senior forward Pops Mensah-Bonsu has loudly announced his return to the form many predicted would place him on an NBA roster in the future. Between his suspension and injuries, Pops just did not seem fully comfortable on the court. He often picked up cheap fouls on reach-ins and a bit on too many ball fakes. In the past two games, he has played better defense and did not force the action. His efforts in both games were both critical to the team’s ultimate success.

Although the Colonials have proven over the course of the season that they do not necessarily need a dominant Mensah-Bonsu to win, his reemergence creates a better element of balance on an offense that had become increasingly dependent on standout guard play. Having Pops in great form will force opposing defenses to continue playing him honestly, which will create more open jump-shots and driving opportunities for his teammates.

Regis comes alive

Ever since Louisiana State University transfer Regis Koundjia declared his intention to join the Colonials, fans have heard gushing praise from coaches and fellow players alike about what kind of presence he would bring to GW. After a number of games in which Koundjia flashed snippets of his talent, his performance against Rhode Island served as his breaking-out party.

Koundjia tallied eight points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes of play. He seemed to be in the appropriate position to grab key rebounds down the stretch and played absolutely stellar defense during the run in which GW put the game out of reach. As he continues to readjust to the game, Koundjia will continue to provide an extra spark of the Colonials’ bench. He figures to be an absolute terror as GW gets deeper in conference play.

A-10 outlook

After defeating second-place Rhode Island, the Colonials opened a two-game lead in the conference standings. Remarkably, the Colonials can all but clinch the A-10 regular season title with wins over Xavier, Massachusetts and Richmond in the coming weeks.

While GW appears to be the class of the conference, the A-10’s depth this year has been impressive. On Saturday, Temple upset then-No. 18 Maryland – adding another impressive win to their out-of-conference resume that already boasted a win over a ranked Alabama team. Xavier continues to play well despite a surprising loss at home to Saint Louis. Charlotte and Saint Joseph’s also figure to be factors down the stretch. Even teams such as Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Richmond are exceeding expectations during their surprising seasons. It definitely appears the A-10’s days of one NCAA tournament bid are over.

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