PROVIDENCE, R.I.-For 22 regular-season games, teams couldn’t solve the juggernaut that was GW men’s basketball.
Providence College head coach Tim Welsh found the solution, sitting at the end of the bench, with 11:29 remaining in its game against the Colonials Sunday night at Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
Welsh put Ray Hall into the game with GW leading 57-53. Hall, a 6-foot-10 freshman, rifled off six quick points on a few elementary moves in the paint to erase the lead and turn the game permanently in the Friars’ favor.
After the game, GW men’s basketball coach Karl Hobbs was asked about Hall’s performance.
“Ray Hall? I don’t even remember the guy,” Hobbs said. “I just know some guy had 11 rebounds. That’s all I know.”
Actually, not one player on Providence had exactly 11 rebounds, but in a little more than three minutes, Hall, who finished with 10 points on 5-for-7 shooting, showed Hobbs exactly what they are missing: frontcourt productivity.
Seniors Dokun Akingbade, Regis Koundjia and sophomore Rob Diggs comprise a frontcourt devoid of consistent productivity and depth. With the loss of freshman Hermann Opoku to suspension and sophomore Cheyenne Moore to injury, GW needed the thinned frontcourt to hold its place and a strong backcourt to consistently perform. Despite going 4-1 in its first five games, neither has happened and the Colonials lost its first game since Dec. 30, 2005 to a team predicted to finish 10th in the Big East.
Asked about his front line after the 86-67 loss to Providence, Hobbs seemed downtrodden, resigned to the fact that his front line would have trouble with bigger and stronger teams down the road.
“It’s going to be an issue for us all year,” Hobbs said. “It’s a major concern when you have basically two inside guys.”
Dating back to Wilt Chamberlin, Kareem Abdul Jabbar and most recently Patrick Ewing and Shaquille O’Neal, a strong presence at center significantly helps teams win. Unlike guards who, with a few exceptions, are known as prolific offensive powers, centers are often dominant on both sides of the ball. A heralded guard-centric team, GW learned the importance of size the hard way.
The trio has played a combined four and a half seasons in Hobbs’ system, and is attempting to fill the void created with the graduation of Mike Hall, Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Omar Williams.
Against Providence, this year’s big men combined for 11 rebounds while Herbert Hill, the Friars’ center, pulled down 20 of his own.
Overall, Akingbade, Koundjia and Diggs are averaging about 6.1 rebounds in 27.8 minutes per game. GW’s most productive big man, Akingbade, is averaging seven points and 6.6 rebounds per game.
Akingbade bobbled some passes in the paint and was whistled for three personal fouls against Providence. He turned the ball over once and connected on 33 percent of his shots from the floor.
Hobbs said he thought Akingbade played a good game.
“I thought he played hard. I thought he played fairly well,” Hobbs said of the Maryland native. “There are a few plays I thought he could’ve finished but those things sort of happen. He’s a guy that’s coming along, and I think he’ll get better after every game.”
Thus far, Hobbs’ statement could be chalked up to wishful thinking. Akingbade’s statistics have gone up and down each game in two major categories where centers are expected to perform: rebounding and scoring.
When GW needs him, Akingbade seems to falter. In the rebounding column, Akingbade pulled down 60 percent more rebounds in the second game than he did in the first. In the third game, his rebounding was down 50 percent. Against Longwood, he grabbed 250 percent more rebounds but Akingbade had a season-low rebounding performance (two) in the second-most minutes he has played in his collegiate career (24).
The Colonials’ backcourt has proved to be slightly erratic in the season’s first five games but senior Carl Elliott’s consistency is lost. After scoring 25 and 29 points in the first two games, Elliott is averaging eight points since. He is turning the ball over nearly once every four minutes, including more than one turnover for every two points he scored against the Friars.
Saturday, GW will have its second consecutive big game in Virginia Tech, a 4-2 ACC team, in the BB&T Classic. By the game Sunday, Tech will have played two NCAA teams.
The Hokies’ starting front line, which includes Deron Washington, A.D. Vassallo and Coleman Collins, averages 10.4 rebounds per game, nearly four more caroms than GW tends to pull down.
Is there a cure for GW’s consistent overall inconsistencies?
“Our two inside guys need to do a better job, period,” Hobbs said. “We need to be a little bit more smarter on the offensive end, and then we just got to work on boxing folks out and doing the fundamental things of keeping people off the boards.”
NOTES: Sophomore Cheyenne Moore was expected to begin to practice this week … Sophomore Noel Wilmore is the only player who has nailed every free throw this season (4-4).