Early in the season, when the men’s basketball team was suffering through offensive growing pains and struggling to put points on the board, it was the Colonials defense that was the team’s saving grace, a bright spot in what was, at the time, an otherwise dim outlook for the 2010-2011 campaign.
The outlook for the Colonials has since improved, as evidenced by GW’s 72-52 win Wednesday night over Fordham, though it was once again the Colonials’ defense that kept the team afloat for much of the game.
The Colonials (10-6, 3-0 Atlantic 10) shot just 33.3 percent in the first half, scoring just 26 points before halftime. But even as GW struggled to find the bottom of the basket, the Colonials locked down on the defensive end, holding the Rams to just 27.6 percent shooting from the floor and 21 first-half points.
“I think that’s very important,” junior guard Tony Taylor said. “Coach preaches that if we don’t score, the other team can’t score. So I think we turned up our defensive intensity… we were very active.”
GW’s ability to keep its offensive woes from snowballing into defensive lapses kept the Rams from pulling away while the Colonials struggled to make baskets early on.
“For a game where, in the first half, they shot 28 percent, we didn’t get as much out defending that well as you hope you would by getting some easy baskets out of it,” Fordham head coach Tom Pecora said. “They do a good job throwing multiple defenses at you. They extended the floor in their half-court stuff and it slowed down our guards a little bit.”
The turning point for the Colonials came late in the first half when sophomore Tim Johnson entered the game for GW. He scored seven points on a pair of three-point baskets and a free throw over the final minute and 30 seconds to give his team a five-point lead going into halftime.
The Colonials had missed all nine of its three-point attempts before Johnson entered the game, and the quick burst of scoring in what had been an otherwise offensively lethargic game energized the team and planted a seed for the momentum the Colonials would gather in the second half.
“I thought Tim Johnson did a great job, because he maintained the momentum and the tempo,” head coach Karl Hobbs said. “He came in, he made those two threes and I think at that point, we might have been 0-for-nine, I think, from three, and then Tim made the two threes. I thought that was the difference which kept the momentum and it kept our confidence up.”
After allowing the Rams to score the first six points of the second half, the Colonials ripped off two separate runs in the second half that put the game largely out of reach for Fordham. A Dwayne Smith dunk at the 10-minute mark set off a 10-0 run that gave GW a 14-point lead.
The Colonials were led offensively by Taylor, who had 12 points against the Rams. Sophomore Dwayne Smith had 11 points and senior Joseph Katuka had 10.
GW closed the game on an 11-0 run that featured three separate alley-oops from sophomore David Pellom, putting the exclamation point on the Colonials’ third-straight A-10 win and the team’s eighth win in its last nine games. GW hasn’t opened A-10 play 3-0 since the 2005-2006 season, when the team went undefeated in conference play.
“I don’t think we’ve been 3-0 in a long time in conference play,” Taylor said. “We’ve just been talking about that in practice. It’s very exciting that we’re 3-0, but it’s still a long season. We gotta keep progressing.”
The schedule will get tougher for the Colonials in the coming weeks, with two of their next four games against NCAA Tournament teams from last season in Richmond and Xavier. GW went 0-3 against those teams last season, and even riding a five-game winning streak, Hobbs said his team remains a work in progress.
“I think we’re getting better, and obviously we have to continue to get better because the games just become that much tougher. I think for us, we just need to be consistent, particularly defending the three. We need to be consistent with rebounding the basketball and we gotta get out in transition and get the easy baskets,” Hobbs said. “I think if we can do those four things consistently, we can become a very good basketball team.”
The Colonials will take a break from A-10 play Saturday to wrap up their non-conference schedule with a contest against Harvard. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.