Offense has been a problem for the men’s basketball team this season, especially in the second half. The Colonials came into Saturday afternoon’s game against Saint Louis riding a four-game losing streak during which the team hadn’t once outscored its opponent in the second half.
But things changed for the Colonials in Saturday’s game against the Billikens. GW rode a 14-1 second-half run to turn a five-point deficit into an 8-point lead with 3:32 left to play in the game. While it was far from perfect basketball, it was the kind of second-half run that opponents have used to beat the Colonials over the course of the season. But once the game was over, men’s basketball head coach Karl Hobbs didn’t seem interested in talking about his team’s offensive outburst.
“I’d rather talk about just how good our defense was, particularly in the second half,” Hobbs said after watching his team win 52-46. “I thought that, for me, it’s all about playing a certain way, it’s all about us executing, and more importantly executing our game plan. Our game plan today was to put pressure on the ball.”
GW limited the Billikens to just 17 second-half points, the fewest points scored in a half by any Colonials (11-10, 4-3 Atlantic 10) opponent this season. Saint Louis shot just 28 percent in the second half, and the two Billikens players the Colonials targeted on defense, junior guard Kyle Cassity and sophomore forward Cody Ellis, were held to just 12 points.
Once he did get around to talking about his team’s offense, Hobbs pointed to a number of big plays he said shifted the momentum in GW’s favor, including one series in which sophomore forward David Pellom stole a Saint Louis inbounds pass and fed the ball to freshman forward Nemanja Mikic, who hit a three from the right corner to cap the Colonials’ 14-1 run and give GW its largest lead of the game at 8.
“We made some key shots,” Hobbs said. “And we got a terrific steal. When we got the steal, Pellom had the presence of mind to find Nemanja for the big three. I thought that play was huge. It gave us the cushion that we needed.”
Other offensive contributors included junior guard Tony Taylor, who had 19 points, and sophomore forward Dwayne Smith, who recorded his second career double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds, the latter of which was a career high. Smith also had three blocks against Saint Louis, which was also a career best for him.
Taylor’s 19-point performance was the junior’s second-straight scoring outburst, after struggling on the offensive end during the Colonials’ four-game losing streak. Taylor scored 21 points Wednesday night against Xavier and said his rediscovered offensive prowess has emerged from a combination of practice and coaching.
“I think I’m hitting more shots,” Taylor said with a hint of sarcasm in his voice when asked what had changed for him offensively in the last two games. “I think that we’ve been in the gym a countless amount of hours and just working extra on our shooting and passing and just our rhythm offensively, and also defensively. Coach has been doing a great job of getting me focused and not worrying about the last shot but taking the next one.”
The Colonials win also came on the heels of one of the team’s strongest performances of the season in a 81-74 road loss last Wednesday against conference-leading Xavier. Despite suffering the loss against the Musketeers, Taylor said his team got a boost of confidence from playing one of the Atlantic 10’s perennial powers as close as it did.
“Building off of Xavier, that gave us a little bit of momentum, because we knew we could play with a team like that, first in the league, and that should mean that we can play with anybody,” Taylor said.
With its losing skid now officially snapped at four, the Colonials will look to regain their form from the beginning of A-10 play, which GW opened 3-0 for the first time since 2005-2006. To say the Colonials, who have now had two separate four-game losing streaks sandwiched between a stretch in which GW won eight of nine games, have been streaky would be fair, but it’s a trait Hobbs said he hopes his team can outgrow quickly.
“The real challenge for us at this point is to play consistently, is to get everybody playing consistently. So if a guy’s gonna get five rebounds, we want five rebounds a game. We don’t want a guy to get two rebounds, the next game he gets eight rebounds, the next game he gets three rebounds,” Hobbs said. “That’s all we’ve been talking about, because I’m a true believer, and I’ve said this countless times, consistency is a true measure of success. So that’s what we’re fighting right now with this team, is to play at a certain level consistently, individually as well as a team. That’s gonna be the challenge for us for the rest of the season.”
Next up for the Colonials is a road date Wednesday night against Duquesne, one of just two teams in the A-10 with an undefeated conference record. Tip-off in Pittsburgh is set for 7 p.m.