Minutes after the start of the GW men’s basketball team’s season opener, it was over.
In a fury that quickly erased any lingering memories of the team’s preseason near-defeat at the hands of Division II University of the District of Columbia, the Colonials scored the first 15 points of their regular season opener against Mount St. Mary’s University and coasted to a 77-62 win at Smith Center Saturday.
GW’s unspoken message – that was just an exhibition, here’s the real deal – came over loud and clear, amplified by the cheers of the 3,644 fans in attendance. It may be cliché, but the team looked to be in midseason from the opening tip, harassing Mount players into rushed shots that turned into highlights on the other end of court.
“That was a lot of fun – I can’t even put it into words,” said junior Wynton Witherspoon, who scored 15 points to go with a career-high 11 rebounds in his first official game since transferring from Virginia Tech two years ago.
As usual, Witherspoon was all smiles as he strolled into the interview room after the game, declaring himself “the sexiest man in the building” to teammate Rob Diggs. Along with Diggs, a junior, Witherspoon excited fans with both the commonplace (swishing a pull-up jumper in transition) and the extraordinary (a sideline dunk that recalled Michael Jordan’s famous 1991 flush over Patrick Ewing).
But it was a combination of players that gave the Colonials their huge early lead. Senior Maureece “Reece” Rice’s opening three-pointer was matched by sophomore Damian Hollis and, despite getting open looks early, the Mount’s shots did not fall.
“They do what they do: They play in transition and if they get in the open court, they are just murder,” said Mount St. Mary’s coach Milan Brown. “Every time in transition, it seemed like to me, they almost scored every time.”
Diggs led the team in scoring with 21 points and was joined by Rice, Hollis, Witherspoon and junior Cheyenne Moore in the starting lineup. Diggs displayed an array of scoring moves, including a backdoor alley-oop and a smooth turnaround jumpshot, in going six for eight from the floor.
Sophomore point guard Travis King, who is expected to start once healthy, dressed and warmed up with the team but did not play because he is recovering from a fractured right kneecap. Without King, the team used a combination of Witherspoon and Rice to bring up the ball, though the Colonials’ up-tempo play rarely afforded time to walk the ball up the court. Instead, the team made liberal use of quick outlet passes to attack the basket.
The 15-point head start ended up being the exact difference in the game, as the teams played evenly after that. GW head coach Karl Hobbs said the team’s 23 turnovers were much of the reason the Colonials failed to extend the lead, but GW seemed to take its foot off the pedal in the second half, waiting for the Mount to put together a small run before taking back control.
“I thought we kind of kept them on their heels and that was the difference in the game,” Hobbs said.
Freshman Xavier Alexander scored four points in 17 minutes while playing energetic defense, but classsmates Miles Beatty and Joseph Katuka played just five minutes each. Jabari Edwards, the teams fourth freshman, did not dress due to a knee injury.
For Mount St. Mary’s, two players – sophomore Will Holland and senior Chris Vann – combined for 46 points, but no other player scored more than four points.
Without starting sophomore guard Jeremy Goode and classmate forward Kelly Beidler, who were suspended due to violating team rules, the offense was left impotent until Holland and Vann found their groove, which took about 10 minutes. But it was 10 minutes too long, as the damage had already been done and the game had already been lost.