What a difference a year can make.
In last season’s preseason exhibition, GW needed overtime to escape with a narrow victory over Division II UDC. Xavier Alexander was a freshman seeing his first collegiate action, with most of his contributions coming from the unbridled energy and effort characteristic of a newcomer, as he helped his team struggle to put away its opponent.
In Saturday’s 101-71 exhibition win over West Georgia, Alexander’s intensity was certainly still there. Only this time it translated into 18 points, 11 rebounds and five assists for the sophomore.
“He just had a great deal of energy. He was all over the place,” head coach Karl Hobbs said of the Oklahoma native. “I like the fact that he took care of the ball in transition and he made great decisions with it.”
Alexander brought the crowd to its feet a number of times, including an alley-oop to senior Wynton Witherspoon and a wild blocked shot on a West Georgia breakaway that sent the ball sailing out of bounds. When freshman Tony Taylor received an outlet pass off a defensive rebound in the first half, he heaved it upcourt to Alexander, who caught it in stride and went up strong to score on a layup and draw the foul.
“He finished some nice plays. Last year, oh boy, it had been an adventure sometimes when he had that ball coming down the floor,” Hobbs said of Alexander. “I just hope that consistently he can play the way he did today, because if he does, I think we’ll be a hard team to deal with.”
Based on Saturday’s performance, junior Damian Hollis could be adding to that difficulty for opponents. The 6-foot-8 forward led all scorers with 18 points, with his baskets coming from both the outside – where he shot four of five from beyond the arc – and the inside, where he drove to the hoop successfully several times.
The Colonials never appeared to have much trouble handling their Division II opponents, opening a 30-9 lead in the game’s first 10 minutes, much of which was played with standout senior forward Rob Diggs on the bench. Junior Hermann Opoku started in his place, but it was sophomore Joseph Katuka’s early performance off the bench that jump-started GW. In his first two minutes of action, Katuka blocked a shot, grabbed an offensive rebound and scored six points.
“He got us off to a good start,” Hobbs said. “He got the quick six points and from there on, we really started to execute and get good looks at the basket.”
Another noteworthy inclusion in the starting lineup was Taylor, who got the nod over sophomore Travis King as the latter battles back from the knee surgery that ended his season last year. King had nine points and four assists in 10 minutes of play, but Hobbs said he was more focused on working him up to playing speed than his overall performance.
“The main thing for me was to make sure that I didn’t play him too many minutes,” he said. “Just kind of work him in gradually as he begins to get his legs up under him and get his wind and conditioning.”
The Colonials’ regular season begins next Friday with a trip to Boston University, the preseason favorites to win the America East conference. Despite Saturday’s resounding victory, Hobbs thinks his team has its work cut out for them on the road against a more experienced opponent.
“We’re going to play against a seasoned team. This is a very young basketball team,” he said of the Colonials. “We’ve really got to go up there and be a lot sharper than what we were today.”