BRONX, N.Y. – Amid the boos, the vulgarities from the crowd and a flurry of questionable calls on both sides of the ball, there was a sixth-ranked basketball team struggling Saturday, a team with serious NCAA aspirations and without an emotional and physical anchor late in February at the tail end of a so far one-loss season.
With senior Pops Mensah-Bonsu clad in sweatpants on the sidelines with a torn meniscus, the sixth-ranked GW men’s basketball team searched for an answer to the six feet and nine inches that they were missing on the court.
The solution did not come from one player, but five, continuing the trend of immense depth in GW’s 16th consecutive victory, 78-67, over Fordham in Rose Hill Gym Saturday afternoon. The win gives GW the top seed in the Atlantic 10 Tournament and leaves the Colonials (24-1, 14-0 A-10) two games away from completing the conference schedule undefeated. They have the longest winning streak in the country, and have not lost since Dec. 30.
“We had guys making big plays after big plays and it was different guys,” GW head coach Karl Hobbs said after the win. “That’s kind of been this team all year and when you look at it, everyone pretty much scored other than (sophomore) Regis (Koundjia). I thought foul trouble really hindered him because I thought he was on his way.”
Piece by piece, the Colonials neutralized Mensah-Bonsu’s absence. Senior Alex Kireev (six points, four rebounds) helped fill in the void in the paint. Junior Danilo (J.R.) Pinnock grabbed eight rebounds, three above his average, to help the Colonials on the glass.
And to help offset the lack of Mensah Bonsu’s 13.1 point-per-game presence, five GW mainstays keyed the victory.
Sophomore Maureece Rice dropped a piercing 19 points on 7-for-7 second-half shooting. Rice’s play helped turn GW’s game into a largely guard-dominated outing. Pinnock put in 17 points while Brooklyn native junior Carl Elliott added 16 in his homecoming.
Senior Mike Hall had 10 points and three rebounds in a 36-minute effort that Hobbs characterized as possibly being “four minutes too many.” Classmate Omar Williams chipped in with six points and four rebounds in 31 minutes.
The puzzle was not complete without some minutes from freshman Rob Diggs. Diggs played seven minutes and scored four points. Hobbs credited his lack of playing time to the need for experience down the stretch.
“The game got down to stretches where you need experience and that’s what we went with, we went with our experience,” Hobbs said.
For Hobbs, the unavailability of Mensah-Bonsu’s experience did not drastically alter the game plan.
“We try to play our style,” Hobbs said on their method of controlling teams. “We wanted to make sure we kept pressure on them all game. We wanted to make sure we converted at every opportunity to make sure we got layups in transition.”
For Fordham, the absence of Mensah-Bonsu appeared to leave a hole open for sophomore standout Bryan Dunston. But the 2004-2005 A-10 rookie of the year only managed 11 points on 2-for-7 shooting.
Fordham head coach Dereck Wittenberg said the defensive pressure exerted by GW stifled his young squad. When asked how to counter it, he seemed out of answers.
“Recruiting,” Wittenberg mused.
Mensah-Bonsu on the bench cheering was a strange scene for many of his teammates, who count on his average of 25.9 minutes a game for rebounds, defense and paint performance.
“He’s the ugliest cheerleader I’ve seen,” Pinnock said. “We definitely miss him on the floor. We’re going to try to keep winning so he can get back and play another one.”