As of Tuesday night, junior Damian Hollis and senior Noel Wilmore didn’t know much about Andrew Nicholson.
This might surprise some. Nicholson, after all, is probably the best player on St. Bonaventure, the men’s basketball team’s opponents Thursday night in a game Wilmore aptly described as a “must-win.” The 6-foot-9 Canadian-born freshman leads the Bonnies in scoring, is second in rebounding and sits number two in the entire Atlantic 10 conference in both shooting percentage and blocked shots. If you are talking about St. Bonaventure, you are probably talking about him.
But when discussing their preparation for Thursday, Hollis and Wilmore weren’t really talking much about St. Bonaventure. They were talking about GW, what they themselves had to do in order to snap out of a prolonged funk that has now seen them lose 13 of their last 14 games, dropping them to 1-9 in the A-10.
“Always our offense, trying to get that down pat,” Hollis explained when asked what they had been working on in practice that afternoon. “And then our defense, trying to get our rotations right.”
They are simple things, but simple things often go awry in a season like this. In last week’s home loss to La Salle, Hollis almost immediately picked up two fouls – one defending a shot and a second for protesting the call – that led to four quick points for the Explorers. Saturday at Charlotte, it seemed everything went wrong right off the bat as the Colonials took poor care of the ball, surrendered quick baskets in transition and quickly found themselves in a double-digit deficit from which they would never escape.
“We’ve got to try to prevent doing that and just have a smart start: no turnovers, all good shots,” Wilmore said of the keys to winning Thursday. “Get the shot that we’re looking for and not turn the ball over to start the game.”
The implied sentiment – if the Colonials play their game, the outcome is in their hands – has been a common thread woven throughout head coach Karl Hobbs’s post-game commentary this season. It’s about the process, he often says, and what GW is or is not able to do on a given night.
“Tell me what the strengths and weaknesses are of the opponent, and yeah, we’re going to tweak from game to game,” assistant coach Darrell Brooks said of the staff’s game planning. “But the biggest thing is that you want to be able to do well what you do.”
“We feel like we run some good stuff,” he added. “But at the end of the day, the rules say you’ve got to put the ball in the basket no matter what you run.”
Therein lies the problem. However satisfied the coaching staff may or may not be with the process, the results have been less than pleasing. Sitting in 13th place in a 14-team conference and on the verge of missing the postseason altogether for the second straight year, many teams may have thrown in the towel by now.
But the Colonials, Brooks said, have not. The eight-year assistant said Hobbs has hammered home that same, consistent message – focus on the process and do what it takes to collect a win the next time out – to which the players have responded.
Doing so hasn’t been easy, Hollis said, but there is no real alternative.
“It’s tough. Losses really bring you down but you just have to push through,” Hollis said. “That’s all you can do – just be optimistic and just push.”
It is classic athlete-speak, but that mindset may be the best thing for the struggling team. The only influence the Colonials can exert on the standings is their own record. There’s no room in practice to dwell on the accumulation of wins and losses past, only to focus on the next opportunity to do so. And perhaps most important, it is little use to watch the out-of-town scoreboard if the in-town one sits in the opponent’s favor.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Brooks said. “We’re trying to win Thursday. Then we’ll move on.”
Thursday’s tip-off is set for 9 p.m.