Colonials win battle with Minutemen

When the best rebounding team in the Atlantic 10 comes to town, it’s time to hit the boards.

So the day before the GW men’s basketball team hosted Massachusetts, head coach Karl Hobbs turned a stat sheet into a motivational ploy, telling his players the number of rebounds they averaged in relation to their minutes on the court.

“Basically, I told some guys they ought to be embarrassed,” Hobbs said, explaining that he asked his players for two more rebounds than they averaged and reminded them of the demand during every timeout.

Looking at the stat sheet after Wednesday’s game, Hobbs couldn’t be anything but pleased. Five Colonials grabbed seven or more rebounds as GW beat the Minutemen by 21 on the boards to fuel a 66-60 win that swapped the two teams’ spots in the conference standings.

GW (14-10, 4-7 A-10) kept itself in contention throughout by grabbing loose balls and converting them into points, but it was after halftime that the Colonials’ dominance in the rebounding department truly took shape.

After a back-and-forth first half in which the teams were never separated by more than five points, GW led by four with 12 minutes left in the game when freshman Dwayne Smith secured an offensive rebound off his own missed free throw, leading to classmate Lasan Kromah pushing the team’s lead to seven with a three-pointer.

The Minutemen hit a pair of free throws on the other end, but the Colonials’ lead was then extended to eight on the next possession when Smith and Kromah reprised those same roles, the former pulling down an offensive rebound and the latter hitting another trey.

“There was quite a few times when they came up with loose balls and loose rebounds that ended with the kid, Kromah, knocking down a three,” UMass head coach Derek Kellogg said. “I think that’s what really got him going, those extra possessions for easy baskets.”

When the Colonials’ lead shrank back to two a few minutes later, sophomores Tony Taylor and Aaron Ware each grabbed offensive rebounds on the same possession to set up a jumper from senior Damian Hollis.

And in the game’s final minute, junior Joseph Katuka and Kromah both provided boards to extend a possession that ended with Taylor hitting a free throw and GW leading by four with 34 seconds remaining.

But perhaps none of these plays better exemplified Wednesday’s performance than Taylor missing the second of his two free throws with 20 seconds on the clock and a three-point lead, then working his way through multiple Minutemen to get a hold of the rebound and toss it to Kromah as he fell out of bounds.

“How does that happen?” Kellogg asked himself after the game. “I’m not sure. There’s nobody in there.”

The board was Taylor’s seventh of the game, putting him in a four-player tie – with Smith, Ware, and freshman David Pellom – for second on the team behind Katuka, who finished with 11.

Katuka also scored 12 points – trailing only Kromah’s 22 for the team lead – with nine of them coming consecutively in the game’s first 10 minutes to help GW keep pace.

“We got the ball into him, he finished plays, he allowed us to stay within reach,” Hobbs said. “I’m just happy for him that he had a terrific game because tonight we needed a game out of him.”

That need was not only born out of the Minutemen’s rebounding acumen but also the limited availability of Hollis, GW’s top scorer and rebounder this season. The senior forward scored the Colonials’ first five points, but quickly found himself in foul trouble in a game that would eventually see 52 fouls whistled.

Hollis fouled out of the game with 5:48 to play when he was called for a blocking foul near midcourt.

“I think both teams knew we were in a desperate position and we came out and we were aggressive,” Hollis said. “In return the refs had to call it tight because we were going so aggressive at each other.”

GW will travel to play No. 25 Richmond (AP) Saturday at 7 p.m.

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