After the GW men’s basketball team’s win over Longwood University, the names of two Colonials players, senior Carl Elliott and sophomore Rob Diggs, were seemingly on the tips of everyone’s tongue, but for different reasons.
Elliott, who played nearly flawlessly in GW’s first two games, looked out of rhythm all game and shot just 2-for-12 from the floor. Diggs had his first career double-double (22 points and 10 rebounds) and added some material to his growing highlight reel.
But perhaps because he did it so quietly, or because fans have come to expect it, few seemed to mention junior guard Maureece Rice, or the fact that he scored a career-high 23 points.
Led by Rice and Diggs, GW overcame an eight-point halftime deficit to beat Longwood 74-60. The Lancers, who are in their just third full year in Division I, did everything right in the first half by hitting their jumpers, capitalizing on GW’s sloppy play and holding the Colonials to just 27.6 percent shooting.
“I told them number one, we need to relax,” Hobbs said about his halftime advice. “We need to focus, we need to play defense and we need to stop somebody.”
Elliott continued to struggle offensively in the second half, but he shut down Longwood guard Maurice Sumter, who scored just two points after scoring 17 in the first half. With Longwood unable to score, Rice and Diggs led a comeback.
“(Elliott’s) going to have a few bad nights,” Hobbs said. “When he does have a bad night, we still have to find a way to win. The way you find a way to win is continue to play defense consistently, continue to force turnovers, continue to score off those turnovers and give other guys opportunities because we have some pretty good offensive players.”
Rice got opportunities Friday, shooting 9-for-14. He did so quietly, without any dunks and few flashy plays. He rarely shows emotion and his play only looks flashy sometimes because he makes it look so easy. His signature crossover followed by a step-back jumper that hits nothing but net pleases the crowd, but it also happens to be an almost guaranteed two points. If his defender happens to fall over in the process, Rice has more room to shoot.
“He’s starting to settle in and use his teammates more in terms of scoring more off of screens,” Hobbs said. “When he uses his teammates more to score he’s a very difficult person to guard.”
Rice was consistent throughout Friday’s game, so picking one stretch of particularly good play is difficult. For Diggs, it is easier. During the comeback, Diggs had two tip-ins and a block in succession, demoralizing plays that knocked out a Lancers team already on the ropes. Diggs also provided the highlight of the night, a left-handed alley-oop from Rice that sent the 3,364 in attendance at the Smith Center into frenzy.
“He’s really been scoring,” Hobbs said of Diggs. “He hasn’t been just doing it in games, he’s been doing it in practice. I really think he’s about 10 pounds away from being a phenomenal player. We’re really trying to focus on getting him more shots. I’m pretty sure he’s going to be coming at my door asking for me to run more of his sets if he keeps playing like this.”
Longwood did expose some of GW’s weaknesses, particularly its lack of front-court depth after Diggs. The Lancers were successful by collapsing on senior Dokun Akingbade in the post, stripping him or forcing him to hurry a pass. Hobbs said that the team will try to mask the problem by running a four-guard set with Rice, Elliott, freshman Travis King and sophomore Noel Wilmore to force teams with bigger players to match their quickness.
With so many guards on the court, opponents may not be able to focus all of their attention on any one of them. If Rice has more games like the one he had Friday, teams may have to start paying more attention to him. So will everybody else.