Over the course of this season, and its history, GW has displayed an affection for flair, often opting for flashy passes and imposing dunks over simple dishes and layups. This has both helped them – the implausible off-the-backboard dunk in an eventual victory over Dayton earlier this month – and hurt them – a crucial stretch of blown fast breaks in a December loss to Auburn.
But in Saturday’s 59-53 win over Richmond, it was a return to fundamentals that carried the Colonials (8-14, 4-8 A-10) to victory. The no-look passes and emphatic dunk attempts were there, but as GW struggled from the floor, they rode a flurry of free throws, trapping defense and relatively mistake-free basketball to put together consecutive wins for the first time since November.
“We really have to take care of the basketball,” GW head coach Karl Hobbs said after the game. “I thought that we played with a great deal of poise in the second half and we took care of the ball.”
Perhaps no play better typified that change than a last-second decision by freshman Xavier Alexander on a fast break. With the Colonials leading by one with less than 11 minutes to play, Alexander broke toward the basket with the ball as junior Cheyenne Moore flanked him to his left. It seemed that Moore, along with most observers of the team this season, expected Alexander to loft a pass Moore’s way for an alley-oop.
But as Alexander shifted the ball to make the pass, he seemed to change his mind, retaining possession and scoring with a simple finger roll. It was an unexpectedly understated means to the same end as the usual flashy finishes, prompting an enthusiastic ovation from the crowd as the Spiders called timeout to calm things down.
It was in that half that the Colonials erased a seven-point halftime deficit despite connecting on just six of 23 attempts from the field. The free-throw line was where the majority of the damage was done: GW shot 22 of 24 from the charity stripe in the final 20 minutes, including a stretch of 16 consecutive conversions.
“We’ve been shooting a lot in practice,” Hobbs said. “We have to do the little things down the stretch.”