AMHERST, Mass. – It’s a sight that men’s basketball fans have grown accustomed to this season: the Colonials splitting the game in half and playing just 20 minutes of good basketball. It’s a pattern that has typically resulted in GW losses for much of the season.
It was more or less the same story for GW Sunday against Massachusetts, only with a different ending. The Colonials struggled to score in one half and managed to find the basket in the second, but Sunday’s game came with a twist: Instead of leading early and faltering late, GW found its legs and took charge in the second half en route to a 59-51 win over the Minutemen.
While GW (13-12, 6-5 Atlantic 10) managed to escape with a victory, things looked bleak for the Colonials for nearly the entire first half. GW scored just 18 first-half points and was limited to four points over the game’s first 13 and a half minutes. Junior guard Tony Taylor, the leading scorer for the Colonials, had just three points before halftime, evidence of the defensive scheme UMass employed to slow down GW.
“In the first half, it took us out of our offensive fluidity because they were really denying Tony the ball,” head coach Karl Hobbs said.
In addition to their lack of success offensively, the Colonials were also taken by surprise by UMass’s range from beyond the arc. Coming into Sunday’s game, the Minutemen were ranked as the worst three-point shooting team in the A-10, but UMass managed to use back-to-back threes early in the first half to create a comfortable lead and create some early momentum to keep GW at bay.
“We just told them to finish plays. We thought we had some really good looks, and [sophomore forward David] Pellom misses a layup and it’s almost like somebody’s taking a pin and taking the air out of us,” Hobbs said. “The thing we told them is, continue to play defense, continue to rebound, continue to play hard.”
Once the second half started though, the Colonials looked like a different team, shooting 46.2 percent from the floor in the second half, nearly double their shooting percentage from the first half. GW slowly reeled in the Minutemen over the game’s final 20 minutes before using a late 15-0 run to bury UMass.
GW made its offensive run in the second half largely on the backs of sophomore forward Dwayne Smith and freshman forward Nemanja Mikic. Smith recorded his second double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds, but it was Mikic, who scored 20 points and hit six three-pointers Sunday, who kept the Colonials in the game and ultimately helped to push them ahead late.
“They were the difference in the game. Every big play to be had, it was either Dwanye’s getting the big rebound offensively or defensively, or him making a terrific play inside. And then Nemanja obviously made the big shots to take us up three, which was huge,” Hobbs said.
Smith, the team’s second leading scorer this season, said his individual performance as well as the team’s second-half performance in general, was the product of an attitude change coming out of halftime.
“When I took the court, I basically thought to myself that we better pick it up, or we’re going to lose this game,” Smith said. “In the huddle, in the changing room, we all got together and told each other to pick it up, because we need to win.”
The Colonials also adjusted their defense in the second half, double and sometimes triple-teaming UMass’ top scorers, limiting the Minutemen to a 30.4 shooting percentage from the field and forcing 19 turnovers throughout the game. GW effectively rendered top UMass scorer Anthony Gurley ineffective, holding him to just seven points Sunday.
“We wanted to make sure whenever Gurley came anywhere near the ball, we [were] going to shadow him all game,” Hobbs said. “We picked up our aggressiveness on defense, particularly on pressure.”
Free throws were once again a sore spot for GW, which shot just 35.3 percent from the line against UMass. Happy with the win though, Hobbs didn’t seem especially concerned with his team’s free throw shooting after the game.
“I think we’ve just got to focus at that line,” he said, adding, “I’m going to chalk it up to a little fatigue on those free throws.”
GW will have almost the entire week off from games following its win over the Minutemen. The Colonials will get back into action next Saturday on the road in Philadelphia against La Salle. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m.