AUBURN, Ala. – It all looked so good for the GW men’s basketball team during the first half of its 83-71 loss at Auburn.
The Colonials (2-1) were playing the best basketball of their young season, effortlessly breaking down the Tigers’ zone defense and, even better, hitting the resulting three pointers. On the other end, Auburn was missing its free throws and struggling to score.
Then halftime came.
GW’s 15-point lead evaporated in a matter of minutes, and the Colonials spent the rest of the game playing a futile game of catch-up.
Such was the second half, 20 minutes of basketball that not only derailed the Colonials’ hopes for a road victory, but their early-season run of success as well.
Before the collapse, five Colonials combined to connect on 10 of 17 first half three-pointers, with senior Noel Wilmore’s four and sophomore Travis King’s three leading the way. Even when freshman Tony Taylor misfired from deep just before halftime, Hollis was there for the put-back and two of his team-high 16 points.
The second half began with the Tigers mirroring that chain of events with a missed three and tip-in of their own – a sign of things to come as they went on to mirror GW’s earlier dominance and dictation of the game.
“It happened right away,” Hollis said. “They came out pretty strong and then we started going on a downward slide.”
The hosts chipped away at the Colonials’ lead as the half progressed, eventually breaking through on a three-pointer by Tay Waller. GW traded punches with the Tigers for the next few minutes, but the game was soon to shift in Auburn’s favor. Lucas Hargrove delivered a pair of daggers – a trey of his own followed by a resounding dunk in transition – to put his team up by seven and energize what had been a tranquil crowd.
“When a team makes a run, we’ve got to be able to raise to the level of intensity,” GW head coach Karl Hobbs said. “As soon as the intensity of the game went to another level, we couldn’t match that.”
As the well of outside shooting went dry, GW also struggled to score inside. Senior Rob Diggs never effectively asserted himself as an inside presence, getting called for a pair of traveling violations in the low post before finding both his minutes and playing style limited by foul trouble.
Sophomore Xavier Alexander found himself on the wrong end of the officials’ whistles as well, managing just one shot from the floor, compared to four fouls, in 16 minutes of action. He failed to collect a rebound on the day, while Diggs, the team’s leading rebounder, grabbed just four.
“Those are two big scorers – big, strong rebounders that we have,” Hollis said. “We definitely missed their presence on the court.”
GW ended the game with a 37-26 deficit on the boards, with none of the Colonials registering more than Diggs’s four. They also earned just 13 free-throw shots – all in the second half – compared to Auburn’s 36, often a sign of a team’s ability (or inability) to pound the ball inside.
“It got down to a very physical, tough game,” Hobbs said. “And they were able to out-physical and out-tough us.”
Much remains to be seen from the Colonials as they handle their first defeat of the season, which could demoralize them. Their next game is at home Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. against UMBC, whose surprise win over GW early last season was only the beginning of the Colonials’ struggles. This season is still young, as is much of this team, and Hobbs said Saturday’s setback is a lesson in the subject of consistency.
“It goes back to 40 minutes – that’s what I take away from this game,” he said. “We saw that we can be a terrific basketball team defensively as well as offensively. Now we’ve got to put ourselves in a position where we’re doing it for 40 minutes, not 20 minutes.”