BRONX, N.Y. – It had been a while since there was a scene like Saturday’s on the GW men’s basketball team’s bench: head coach Karl Hobbs calmly slipping back into his suit coat as most the Colonials’ regulars stood and applauded a quintet of reserves dribbling out the clock.
For once, there was no need to shed formalwear to better mobilize while shouting orders, no cause for a crunch-time unit to hold court over the game’s final minute. Thanks in large part to a career-best 26 points from senior Damian Hollis and a 15-points-in-15-minutes outburst from freshman Dwayne Smith, the team could relax down the stretch as it closed out a 78-53 win over Fordham.
The Colonials (13-10, 3-7 Atlantic 10) cruised past the hapless Rams, keeping the hosts winless in A-10 play and snapping a three-game losing streak of their own with their first double-digit win in six weeks.
Hollis, who said he aggravated his sore ribs early in the game, inflicted plenty of damage in his own right, scoring his first points as he roared through the lane to throw down a left-handed dunk about 10 minutes into the action.
A few minutes later, the fourth-year forward connected on consecutive threes to set the tone for what would become his most productive collegiate scoring effort to date.
“The basket felt huge today,” Hollis said. “My players put me in perfect position so all I had to do was shoot the ball or make an easy play and I thank them for it.”
Nearly two-thirds of his points came after halftime as he helped maintain the Colonials’ comfortable cushion throughout the second half. When Fordham came out of the break with four straight points to crawl back within a dozen, Hollis hit three and two-point jumpers to reassert GW’s stronghold on the game.
“When we needed baskets, particularly when we went into a little bit of a slump in the second half… he stepped up and made big shots for us,” Hobbs said.
A few minutes later, a pair of Hollis three-pointers pushed the Colonials’ lead past 20 points for the first time all afternoon, a point from which they never looked back. Hollis finished the game 6-for-10 from three-point distance and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds to go with his 26 points.
Though the game’s shape became lopsided fairly early, the two teams exchanged scoring runs to open the game and remained within a basket of one another halfway through the first half. Smith made his first impact on the game during this stretch, grabbing two steals and scoring twice within his first minute on the floor.
The Canadian rookie finished with a game-high four steals, helping the Colonials create a 14-point advantage in scoring off turnovers, including an emphatic two-handed breakaway dunk in the second half.
“He probably should knock on my door tomorrow [and say], ‘Coach, I probably need a couple more minutes on the floor,'” Hobbs joked. “I thought he was terrific. All of his points were big.”
One of GW’s defensive keys was limiting the impact of Chris Gaston, Fordham’s standout freshman forward who entered the game fourth in the A-10 in scoring and second in rebounding.
The Colonials double-teamed Gaston at times and guarded him closely, limiting him to only seven points on 2-of-12 shooting. Though he was able to grab a game-high 13 rebounds, only one came on the offensive glass, which Hobbs said had been a point of emphasis in preparing for the game.
“We’ve been talking about him forever, it seems like,” Hollis said, prompting a chuckle from his coach. “I felt like since we got him to get off to a rough start, a rough game really, it helped us a lot.”
The 25-point final margin was the largest scoring discrepancy in a GW game since its 43-point victory over UMBC in November and only the second time in the team’s 11 A-10 games that a game was decided by more than seven points. Aside from a 15-point defeat at Dayton, the Colonials’ other six conference losses had been by seven, one, five, six, four, and seven points.
“We were right there,” Hollis said. “We just had to get over the hump, so it was a sigh of relief.”
Even GW’s recent victories had been nailbiters, with five of the team’s previous six wins having come by single digits. When asked if it was not only nice to break through for a victory but to be able to do so without needing to secure it in the final minutes, Hollis began to answer affirmatively before Hobbs interrupted.
“I’ll answer that for him,” Hobbs said, smiling. “Absolutely.”
The Colonials will return home to host Massachusetts Wednesday at 7 p.m.