VILLANOVA, PA – Coming off of his team’s loss Tuesday night to Boston University in the NIT Season Tip-Off, men’s basketball head coach Karl Hobbs seemed relieved sitting at the podium for his postgame press conference after GW’s 79-59 win over Marist.
Against the Terriers, the Colonials (1-1) struggled from the start, allowing BU to jump out to a 21-5 advantage in the first half. Wednesday against Marist, it was GW that was the aggressor at the opening tip, opening the game with a 12-2 run.
Individually, the Colonials looked like a different team. Sophomore guard Tim Johnson doubled his offensive output from five points to 10. Freshman guard Chris Fitzgerald, who didn’t play at all against the Terriers, made four three-pointers and had 16 points. Even junior point guard Tony Taylor, who was one of the best GW players on the court against BU, upped his performance, pouring in a career-high 23 points.
All of it, Hobbs said, was good. All together, he added, it amounted to a step in the right direction.
“I’m just happy we won this ball game,” Hobbs said. “Yesterday was a very frustrating day for me as a coach, very frustrating for us as a basketball team and I was most proud of our attitude and our mindset and the way we came out and played today.”
Whereas Tuesday, Hobbs said his team wasn’t prepared mentally for the start of the game, he praised his team Wednesday for its adjustment and subsequent dominance of a Marist team that went just 1-29 last season.
“For me it was all about our mental approach to the game tonight,” Hobbs said of what he liked about his team’s performance against Marist. “I thought last night we didn’t play with a sense of urgency, we didn’t play with a real sense of purpose until we were down 18 [or] 16 points.”
In addition to the changes to his team’s mental approach to games, Hobbs also made several lineup adjustments to put GW in a better position to score against Marist’s zone defense. Dwayne Smith, who played 20 minutes against BU Tuesday night, didn’t see any action against the Red Foxes, and Aaron Ware, who started Tuesday, played just five minutes.
A big chunk of those minutes went to Fitzgerald, who played almost 20 minutes and shot four of eight from behind the three-point line in his first-ever action at the collegiate level.
“It feels good, but I just feel like I did what I was supposed to do, because like coach said, he recruited me to shoot,” Fitzgerald said. “When we see zones, I love it because I can just find the spots to get my shot and I just hit the shots that I was supposed to hit.”
Fitzgerald’s ability to knock down open threes also spread the floor for his teammates, especially Taylor, who was able to knock down mid-range jumpers and drive to the basket with relative ease. The sophomore guard also found his way to the foul line against the Red Foxes and took advantage of his opportunities, hitting nine of 10 shots from the charity stripe.
“I definitely feel like I have to score a lot more, but I got great teammates around me and when they score it’s a lot easier for me to score,” Taylor said. “Like today, Chris hit a lot of shots so I was open a lot more, they’re worried about him making more threes, so I’m just knocking down the open shots.”
Even after the win though, Hobbs didn’t hide the fact that the bitter taste left in his mouth after the loss to the Terriers hadn’t quite subsided. Asked if he felt losing to BU and avoiding having to take on NIT Season Tip-Off opening-round host Villanova on its home court was a blessing in disguise, Hobbs was emphatic in his response.
“Not at all,” Hobbs said. “Our goal was to win yesterday, we didn’t think it was a blessing in disguise. In fact, as soon as I get back I probably gotta see my psychiatrist because I’m still disappointed about yesterday.”
GW will take on two opponents, once again on back-to-back days, next Monday and Tuesday in a consolation round of the preseason NIT. As the seventh-seeded team in the tournament, GW could potentially host games at the Smith Center next week, although athletic director Jack Kvancz said he wouldn’t know for sure what the Colonials schedule would be until midday Thursday.
Regardless of where or who they play against, Hobbs was pleased with how his team handled its game Wednesday. Consistency, the 10th-year GW head coach said, will be key, as will making sure the Colonials stay true to their own style of play.
“The real challenge for us is to play GW basketball,” Hobbs said. “We had a meeting with the staff and I told the guys that the disappointment for me in yesterday is, I can handle a loss. I can’t handle a loss when we don’t play GW basketball, when we don’t play the game the right way.”